Sunday, January 12, 2014

Annual playoff letdown post

There’s something disheartening about seeing things unfold exactly as everyone expects, when you’re siding with the underdog. Especially when it’s a repeat of the first buzzsawing.

That’s not how it’s supposed to work, right? David slays Goliath. Rick Vaughn strikes out Haywood after several failed encounters when it matters most. Even the Saints beat the Vikings both to get to the Super Bowl and to exorcise 21 years of playoff demons.

But sometimes teams are just better than yours (or at least get assists from cruddy weather, an acoustically biased stadium and a rattled visiting quarterback). Still stings, though. A lot. I hate that everyone was right about this game. I hate being on the wrong side. I’m sick of hearing about how invincible the Seahawks are, and about Beast Mode and the 12th Man, and I’m doubly sick of them proving it all the time. They need a comeuppance, and though my Saints were not the team to provide it, I hope another will soon enough.

I wanted the Seahawks to lose as much as the Saints to win. This probably has to do with how my group and I were sometimes treated when we went to Seattle for the first Saints game in December. Seattle is a beautiful and vibrant city, with mostly friendly people, but they seemed intent on schooling Saints fans every chance they got. We were snarked at by tour guides, baristas and (naturally) random people hanging out the passenger side of their best friends’ rides. (This heckling was based mainly on the fact that we had on partially visible Saints apparel, not that we were starting anything.)

I remember in particular walking into one bar before the game, and a woman in a Marshawn Lynch jersey strode up to us and seethed, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll leave now.” It’s no wonder most of the Saints fans were crowded in one bar, the New Orleans Bourbon Street Bar, testing the fire code. And even the staff there wore Seahawks jerseys.

After the game, during our walk of shame, we heard lots of sarcastic “Who Dats.” This after a game that exceeded our worst forecasts, that was heavily slanted toward the Hawks from the outset. It wasn’t what I’m used to, being a New Orleans fan (a city that is generally more congenial to visitors). Just like winning isn’t what Seattle is used to.

Those are the fans that are happy this weekend.

I hope the Seahawks lose embarrassingly, and they very well might once outside their cozy, trick stadium. The Seahawks might want to take lessons from the Saints in that regard.

At least the Saints took down the worst fan base in football, that of the Philadelphia Eagles. Shayne Graham shut them up, just as surely as he did nothing the following week.

I’m hoping, as every fan is, that the Saints come back stronger in 2014. This past year is hard to gauge for me. In one sense, I think it was awesome. They benefited from the return of Sean Payton and the addition of Rob Ryan, and two playoff games is pretty good by any metric.

In another, it was incredibly disappointing. Because they were so predictable. Extremely predictable. If they were playing on the road against a good team (especially in the second half of the season), they didn’t have a chance. They rarely subverted expectations, and that was frustrating to watch. In those games, they barely looked acquainted with each other.

The defense under Ryan is looking great. The offense is schizophrenic. To me, this is a signal that the Saints must start considering the unthinkable — grooming a successor to Drew Brees. The receivers, backs and linemen have done mostly well in replacing old blood with new, and there similarly must be a QB in the wings to carry on the winning when the time comes. Brees has several years left, I think, but he’s always had one flaw — in bad games, he gets irrevocably rattled. He can come back from it, but when they lose, you usually saw it coming. That seemed to happen more often this year. It’s a team effort, of course, but this team lives and dies by Brees. Given his more frustrated and pressured state lately, that’s bad for both him and the team.

I hope 2013 wasn’t the Saints’ last best chance for a second title. I don’t think so, but it’s in the back of many of our minds. I just hope they address their glaring weaknesses, because they did so well addressing past weaknesses this year. And then I hope they crush the Panthers and the Seahawks the next time they match up. Because that should happen. My faith in justice depends on it.

The one silver lining left this year is that the Panthers and Seahawks can’t both go to the Super Bowl. One of them will fall, and I’ll enjoy it when it happens (hopefully twice).

Go AFC! For now.

Saints in 2014. For justice.

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