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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Louisiana Football Hangover

Louisiana football fans entered this past weekend with a lot to look forward to. Alabama was coming to Tiger Town to play in prime time with the LSU Tigers fresh off of an upset win over then-number 3 ranked Ole Miss. Alabama appeared ripe for an upset and LSU appeared set to revitalize their 2014 narrative in the national spotlight.

The New Orleans Saints, appearing to have turned a corner with two straight wins, including one on the road, were in first place in the NFC South and set to host struggling NFC rival San Francisco in the Superdome. The Saints last loss in the Dome under Head Coach Sean Payton was in 2010.

The Saints and Tigers played well enough to win. Both the Saints and Tigers would lose in overtime. I cannot recall the last time Louisiana has so much buildup for a weekend of football only to end in such profound disappointment.


GIVE IT AWAY, GIVE IT AWAY, NOW!!!

The LSU Tigers got off to an uncharacteristically bad start in Southeastern Conference play. They lost to the Mississippi State Bulldogs, in fairly convincing fashion, for the first time in this century. LSU was curb stomped by their Tiger counterparts at Auburn. Tiger fans braced themselves for an unpleasantly mediocre season.

Suddenly, the clouds parted and LSU's mojo fell out of the sky and onto them in Gainesville against the University of Florida. Three consecutive conference wins later, including the epic slugfest against Ole Miss and voila! Tiger fans are talking Playoff - as in the College Football Playoff - again.

LSU repeated the blueprint it rolled out against Ole Miss - relentless defense, powerful running, infrequent, high-percentage/low risk passing attempts. Alabama suffered a similar result - down three points in the final minute of the game. The difference? LSU, mentally, took its foot off of the gas.

The Crimson Tide, in spite of having no timeouts remaining when the drive began, took advantage of a kickoff out-of-bounds by LSU then worked the sidelines, repeatedly, to set up a short game-tying field goal to send the game into overtime. In overtime the Tide rammed the ball down LSU's throat to get into the end zone. LSU suddenly decided in was a passing team on the ensuing possession with the line. Four downs later, Coach Les Miles and his staff learned what the rest of the world knew - passing was a bad idea. Final score: Alabama 20 LSU 13.

LSU extends Southern Hospitality to Alabama's DeAndrew White in overtime. 3
A HAIL MARY SAID IN VAIN

Getting off to an abysmal 2-4 start, with three losses coming by a combined total of six points, the New Orleans Saints appeared to rediscover their brand - offense, offense, and more offense than an opponent can handle - by shellacking the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football in Week 8. After securing their first, elusive, road win against their division rival Carolina Panthers on Thursday Night Football, the Saints demonstrated twice before the nation that they were the Super Bowl contender everyone expected them to be at the start of the season.

In came the 4-4 San Francisco 49ers. Like the Saints, the 49ers were expected to contend for the Super Bowl. Like the Saints, the 49ers suffered some head-scratching early season losses. The difference? The Saints entered Sunday's game in sole possession of first place in the NFC South. The desperate 49ers were in a midseason "must win" situation. Both teams played like it.

The Saints effectively spotted the 49ers 14 points in the first quarter. While they would come back to take the lead in the 4th quarter, not even the raucous Superdome crowd and a 4th and 10 situation with the game on the line could stop Colin Kaepernick and the Niners from tying the game. The 49ers left 0:44 on the clock and the Saints had a timeout remaining. Often, this is too much time to leave for Drew Brees.

On the final play of regulation, Brees heaved a 47 yard bomb toward the endzone into the awaiting hands of Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham. The Saints appeared to score a game winning touchdown on the Hail Mary. Unfortunately, Graham put his hand on a defender's shoulder and Perrish Cox of the 49ers delivered the flop of the year to draw an offensive pass interference penalty against Graham to nullify the touchdown and send the game into overtime.

The Saints and Niners swapped possessions, then Brees was sacked by Ahmad Brooks (who ironically cost his team the game in the Superdome in 2013 with a personal foul on a sack of Brees). A fumble was forced and recovered by the 49ers deep in Saints territory. Forty-Niners kicker Phil Dawson connected on a 35-yard field goal to hand the Saints their first loss under Sean Payton in the Superdome in nearly four years.

If you believe Parrish Cox was "shoved" to the ground then I've got the Brooklyn Bridge for sale to you...cheap! Hey! If you ain't cheatin' you ain't tryin', right? 2

SILVER LINING

The LSU Tigers are out of the 2014 College Football Playoff picture. However, their rapid improvement during this season is a cause for hope for Tigers fan. Head Coach Les Miles has often been a victim of his own success. His recruiting classes are among the best, if not the best, in the country. Those talented players often leave for the NFL after three years, forcing Miles to chase his own tail to refill the cupboard. This LSU team is loaded with underclassmen who cannot leave for the NFL. At the rate at which this team is improving, Tiger fans can expect this team to be a serious contender in 2015.

The Saints have the brightest silver lining in their dark cloud of a week. Following the Carolina Panthers loss at Philadelphia on Monday Night Football, the Saints, in spite of a losing, 4-5, record, are in sole possession of first place in the NFC South. The Saints, throughout their 48 season history, have often been the victims of near misses costing them a shot at postseason play. This Saints team is far superior to those of the past. The football gods have apparently rewarded this team with chance after chance after chance to get on track. Strangely, I have confidence that they will in light of their higher quality play of late.

Ahmad Brooks thought he was unfairly called for hitting Brees in the neck in 2013 (clearly not).  He redeemed himself on Sunday. 1
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1) Image from www.larrybrownsports.com
2) Video from www.usatoday.com via www.vine.co
3) Image from www.timesunion.com

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