BEAM: Thanks, Saints, For A Great Year

The New Orleans Saints didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, but they gave their fans much to cheer about during the 2013 season. Supporters can be fickle at times, particularly after a playoff loss, but it shouldn’t detract from the many positives the team recorded during the year.

NFL players and their fans have become so involved with winning the Super Bowl, they often lose sight of the experiences they enjoy throughout the season.

The Seattle Seahawks knocked the Saints out of the playoffs last Saturday 23-15, but that’s only a touchdown and a two-point conversion from a tie. They were on the move near the end, but time ran out. The defense played a superior game, turning around a dismal 2012 when it allowed opposing teams an NFL record 7,042 yards.

Few expected the Saints to be contenders this year, considering their miserable 7-9 season last year. However, they finished at 12-6, which tied for sixth place among the NFL’s 32 teams. The Indianapolis Colts also had a 12-6 record. Four of the five teams with better records are in the conference title races. The fifth, the Carolina Panthers, ended with a 12-5 mark.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees continued his record-setting ways. He completed 68.6 percent of his passes (446 of 650) for 5,162 yards and 39 touchdowns. On the down side, he had 12 interceptions and was sacked a career high 37 times. Nevertheless, he became the only quarterback in NFL history with three consecutive 5,000-yard passing seasons and has half of the 5,000-yard seasons in NFL history.

Tight end Jimmy Graham was a stellar performer. He had 86 catches for 1,215 yards and a league-leading 16 touchdowns. He was named to the 2013 Pro Football Writers of America All-NFL team and to the All-NFC team. Brees is a member of the All-NFC team, and the writers selected safety Kenny Vaccaro for the All-Rookie Team.

Five Saints were named to the Pro Bowl. Brees and Graham headlined the list that also included guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs and defensive end Cameron Jordan.

Sports Business Daily said the Saints registered the highest local TV market rating of all NFL cities during the 2013 regular season. New Orleans earned a household rating of 52.0, which means 52 percent of all homes in the market were tuned in during Saints games.

As you can see, there are more than enough accolades for Saints players and fans to consider the season a great success story. Now, it’s on to those still in the NFL championship hunt.

The New England Patriots (13-4) will be in Denver to play the Broncos (14-3) for the AFC championship at 2 p.m. CST Sunday on CBS. The San Francisco 49ers (14-4) play the Seahawks (14-3) in Seattle for the NFC title at 5:30 p.m. CST on Fox. The winners will play in the Super Bowl Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Kickoff on Fox is scheduled for 5:25 p.m. CST.

Like most season ticket holders, I have a hard time dealing with losses. I keep telling myself to let them go, because nothing is going to change the outcome. And I have had some success in that regard. Losing doesn’t keep me awake in the wee hours as much as it used to do.

The Saints ended a jinx this year when they won their first road playoff game in franchise history that dates back to 1967. They defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 26-24 to advance to the divisional playoff against Seattle.

Teams have to play almost perfect ball to make it to the Super Bowl. The Saints were close, but they came up short when it counted. They lost two key games in the waning seconds. New England scored at the last minute to defeat the Saints, 30-27 in October. A victory over the Panthers in December would have put New Orleans in the No. 2 position in the NFC with a first week playoff bye. However, another defensive miscue gave Carolina a 17-13 win as time was running out.

The Saints should have also defeated the New York Jets and the St. Louis Rams, but lost 26-20 to the Jets and 27-16 to the Rams. Their worst showing came in their regular season game against Seattle when they were trounced, 34-7.

Brees talked after the Seattle playoff game about the 23-15 loss. He said the Seahawks have a good team, and it’s a tough place to play. The windy, rainy weather also didn’t help. An early fumble and two missed field goals were costly and could have made the difference at the end. Eight penalties for 74 yards also hurt.

Saints coach Sean Payton summed up the year well when he said, “I was proud of how our guys fought and competed this year. They found a way to win 12 games. Obviously, it wasn’t enough for what we aspire to do.”

Those of us who have been in the Superdome for most of the Saints home games enjoyed something in the year just ended that fans in many other NFL cities would love to experience. New Orleans had a perfect 8-0 home record. The Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals were the only other teams that could make that claim.

The Saints have the right coaches and with some tweaks in the team’s talent pool they should be contenders once again. Bring on 2014!

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