by Bert Bartlett
In the first half, the Thanksgiving Day game looked like a mismatch. Brees vs. Kitna. In the second, the Saints made mistakes, and Dallas tried harder, scrapping themselves to a four point lead. With just over two minutes to play, Cowboy wideout Roy Williams caught an inside slant in front of fallen defender Patrick Robinson to convert a clinching first down, only the receiver had more exclamatory ideas, like scoring a touchdown.
As Williams streaked down the middle of the field, most Saints fans thought Game Over, if not Season Over, given the ultra close race in the NFC standings. Only nuns rubbing rosaries watching TV thought the Saints had a chance at that instant. Malcolm Jenkins raced in at the last second, attempting to strip the lanky receiver of the ball, in desperation. Probably as surprised about it as anybody else, it worked. Suddenly the ref was pointing his arms for possession in the visitors’ direction, and there were still a few minutes left to play. With electricity, Drew Brees and his receivers took the inch of opportunity and turned it into a mile, quickly driving the field for the go ahead touchdown, the only problem being, it was a little too soon. There was still time for Dallas to get into field goal position to send the game into overtime. Their kicker boomed it with enough leg, but it hooked just left, to save a bizarre – but critical – Saints win.
What was ‘Dat head spinning finish? Magic carpets, like those utilized in the ’09 championship run, fell out of the skies. The oft tritely used Saints slogan, Keeping The Faith, had hard evidence, that miracles really can happen. It was a formal beginning to the holidays. People were liable to upchuck their cranberry in amazement, and wash it down with wine. Such is how life can be, as a Saints fan. Louis Armstrong may as well have been singing, Do You Know What It Means…?
Malcolm Jenkins’ heady hustle play made the list of Saints lore, under John Gilliam’s opening kickoff return in ’67, Tom Dempsey’s record kick at Tulane Stadium, and more recently, Tracey Porter’s interceptions to close out the Vikings and Colts last season. Yes, in The Nation, the earth shook some. After his playing days are over, if Jenkins were to open an exclusive Strip Club in New Orleans, it would likely be a successful establishment.
On Fox, analyst Troy Aikman said the Saints “unraveled” in the second half. Longtime Saints fans have different interpretations of what that means here, wrapped up in paper bags.
Nobody felt worse about his performance than Reggie Bush. Coming back after a two month absence in his position is similar to trying to maneuver a golf cart on an expressway. It was a red flag when his first swing pass hit him in the head. A subsequent throw over the middle may have resulted in six points, but his extension joints were rusty. And on the punt, well, he got stripped too. Don’t be surprised to see him much sharper in the immediate future. And tight end Jimmy Graham, with all his promise, is still a rookie.
Jingle, Jangle, Jingle, Here Comes Mr. Bengal
Following the 2005 season, Cincinnati had won its division and was hosting the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs. Early in the game, a Pittsburgh defensive lineman, first name “Kimo”, submarined himself into quarterback Carson Palmer’s knee as he stepped forward to complete a long pass. The knee was mangled. Their stadium turned into a morgue and the Bengals did not get over the shellshock, and went down meekly in losing the game, while the underdog Steelers went on a tear and won the Super Bowl.
There was speculation the low blow was intentional, dirty, or just reckless by a juiced up tackle. It led to a rule change preventing hitting the QB below the knee, unless blocked. Nevertheless, Carson Palmer and the Bengals haven’t been the same since. Though talented, he has never been able to crack the top echelon of NFL quarterbacks. And though Cincy won their division last year (disappointingly exiting in the first round of the playoffs), that ’05 team was their best recent shot at a championship.
The franchise has been long mediocre, run by former founder and pro football icon Paul Brown’s son, Mike. Paul Brown is also legendary for not hiring Bill Walsh as head coach when having the opportunity. Walsh subsequently lit up the skies in San Francisco. There has been plenty of regular conjecture about the front office being cheap in luring or keeping top talent, or judging it with all the lousy top draft choices they got entitled to over the years. The Jingles have had a lot in common with the Saints of Yesterday.
This year’s edition is a whopping 2-9, despite having as much talent as several winning teams. Head coach Marv Lewis’ run may be deservedly over, unless Brown doesn’t want to spend what it takes to bring in a promising coach. This vanilla, traditional, “stick with it” image Brown has fostered for the club over time is for the birds. The simple fact is, the Bengals stink, and have done so for much of their existence. They have patient fans.
They have toyed with their “success model” before, once purging their roster of a higher than average percentage of miscreants getting into legal trouble, only to welcome one back when their roster got thin. Their orange and black uniforms do resemble prison fatigues, the kind seen on chain gangs on the side of the highway. Chris Henry was a talented receiver, and from Belle Chaase in New Orleans. His story was laced with in and out of favor and trouble, quite a rap sheet, and his young life tragically ended a year ago, when falling out of a pick-up truck in a “domestic dispute”. On a positive note, his mom decided to donate his organs to four needy people, and it reportedly saved their lives.
This season, the Bengals brought in the self-aggrandizing Terrell Owens as a free agent. With another runny mouth on the team at receiver, Chad Ochocinco, it was thought the Midwestern town would turn into quite a cacophony. But it has been surprisingly quiet up there, particularly as losing begets all kinds of public discourse, so in a way, two negatives have turned into a positive, about the only one transpiring in Cincy this season.
As for this Sunday’s visit up there by the Saints, how much football is there to talk about with a 2 win team this late in the year? (No need to attract any spam). But as last Thursday reminded us in Dallas, any week can turn into an adventure.
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