For the fifth time since Sean Payton became head coach in 2006, the New Orleans Saints led the NFL in total offense (411.4 yards per game). For the ninth consecutive season, quarterback Drew Brees passed for more than 4,000 yards and for the seventh straight year, he threw at least 33 touchdown passes. He led the league in completion percentage (.692), tied for the league lead in passing yards (4,952) and the 25.1 points per game scored by New Orleans was ninth-most in the NFL.
Running back Mark Ingram (226 carries for 964 rushing yards and nine touchdowns) had a career year, tight end Jimmy Graham (85 catches for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns) had another Pro Bowl year, receiver Kenny Stills (63-931-3) improved on his outstanding rookie season and speedy rookie receiver Brandin Cooks (53-550-3) flashed the ability that the Saints envisioned when they drafted him in the first round.
But when the Saints faltered at home this season, finishing with a five-game home losing streak after having won 20 straight games at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome under Payton, the offense was a significant non-contributor during the collapse. In those five losses the Saints averaged 17 points and 383.2 yards, eight fewer points and 28.2 less yards than the overall averages.
And turnovers played a large role in slowing down the offense; New Orleans' 30 turnovers were fourth-most in the league, with Brees' 17 interceptions being third-most, and the team committed 11 of those turnovers during its five-game home losing streak.
It was, in short, the epitome of what veteran players spoke of when they said that the Saints had become the kind of team they'd game-planned against in the past, the one that committed the critical turnover or penalty, the one that found a way to beat itself.
Key stats, rankings:
411.4 yards per game, No. 1 in the NFL
4,952 passing yards for Drew Brees, No. 1
69.2 percent completions, No. 1
30 turnovers committed, fourth-most
Running back Mark Ingram picked the perfect time to have his career year. Entering unrestricted free agency, he ran 226 times for 964 yards and nine touchdowns, all career highs, despite missing three games. He showed the ability to be an every-down, heavy usage back when Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson were sidelined with injuries; during a four-game stretch he carried 104 times for 459 yards and three touchdowns, numbers that compared favorably to his stats in each of his first three seasons.
Photos of Mark Ingram from the 2014 regular season. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)