The 2018 New Orleans Saints didn’t achieve their ultimate goal, but to allow that to cast a pall over the entire season would be an epic error in judgment.
Yes, we know about the no-call, and all the ramifications connected to it. And the fallout was substantial for the franchise, which would have been preparing to play in Super Bowl LIII, instead of healing physically and emotionally – and, arguably, more of the latter than the former.
But in the big-picture view, with everything on the table, it’s impossible to not acknowledge how good was the Saints’ season, a run that ended in the NFC Championship Game, even if the expanded view remains just a bit hazy right now.
“I’m proud,” Coach Sean Payton said. “This is a team that won 14 games, with a pretty good schedule, played a lot of good teams. A lot of good teams, a lot of playoff teams. So that – considering the season they had the year before – is encouraging. Those are a lot of wins. Obviously, you want to be in that last game and it didn’t work out. But it’s still early in that (evaluation) process.”
By the time it’s complete, there will be multiple areas upon which to reflect fondly.
New Orleans tied a franchise record for regular-season (13) and road (seven) wins. A 10-game winning streak was the second-longest winning streak in franchise history, behind the 13 straight won by the ’09 Saints.
New Orleans captured the NFC South Division for the second straight year, the first time in franchise history that the team has won back-to-back division titles, and earned the NFC’s top seed for the playoffs.
It won its Divisional Playoff game to move one step closer to the Super Bowl than the previous season – New Orleans was eliminated on the final play of its divisional game in 2017 – and it mixed in enough personal accomplishments during the season to create updates for the NFL and franchise record books.
Among the individual highlights:
Drew Brees set a new all-time record for passing yards (74,437 and counting), raised the bar on his single-season completion percentage record to 74.4 percent (up from 72 last season), and was named second-team All-Pro.
Receiver Michael Thomas set franchise single-season records in receptions (125) and receiving yards (1,405) and was named first-team All-Pro. Running back Alvin Kamara tied Dalton Hilliard’s single-season franchise record with 18 touchdowns, set a franchise mark with 14 rushing scores, and appeared in the Pro Bowl for the second straight year.
Left tackle Terron Armstead and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk were second-team All-Pros, as was defensive end Cam Jordan, who made All-Pro for the second straight year and stacked double-figure sacks (12) for the second straight season, and the third year in the last four.
Center Max Unger made the Pro Bowl, and linebacker Demario Davis (110 tackles, five sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 11 quarterback hits, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery) made a strong case that his exclusion was an egregious oversight.
The Saints’ defense posted a six-game stretch in which it held each opponent to 17 points or less and nine times during the season, it held opponents to 19 or less. Twelve times, New Orleans’ defense had three sacks or more and nine times, it forced at least two turnovers.
And it was the second-best run defense in the league, allowing just 80.2 yards per game – lowered to 63 per game in the playoffs – while extending to 26 the number of games (including playoffs) that an opposing player hasn’t rushed for 100 yards against it.
Too, add in that the special team units had one of the best seasons imaginable. Kicker Wil Lutz made 28 of 30 field goals, including a franchise-record 26 straight; punter Thomas Morstead and the cover teams allowed 60 return yards, total, on 12 returns while Morstead had a 43.2-yard net average; and Alex Okafor and Taysom Hill blocked punts, while Hill also executed three fake punts (including one in the playoffs).
Those superlatives, and more, won’t be drowned by the end. Mainly, they’re reasons to believe the Saints are formidable threats to sail further next season.
“I don't know that (the way the season ended is) what drives athletes or competitors,” Payton said. “It's certainly a chip on your shoulder (that) has always been a healthy edge for anyone. And look, (for example) for years the Raiders had a good chip on their shoulders (and), won a lot of games.
“But I think today's athlete, it's the bond that's created in the locker room and not wanting to let each other down (and) wanting to play their best game for each other. I think those are probably more effective in terms of motivation.”