Last year’s luck runs out for Saints

I don’t really believe the Saints have a Super Bowl hangover. Everything that could have gone right for the Saints last season went right for them. They had a magical year.

There were games in which they were completely out of it. Just remember the game in Miami when they scored seconds before the half ended and got right back into it and got some bizarre turnovers. They had more bizarre turnovers when they beat Washington. Those are just two wins in which everything went right for them.

Their defense didn’t give you a lot of statistics, except for one thing: takeaways. And those takeaways gave their offense great field position and stopped the opponents from scoring. On offense, Drew Brees was on fire and playing with tremendous confidence. His receivers were healthy, and Reggie Bush was having a career year. As a team, the Saints stayed pretty healthy, and Pierre Thomas and some guys were able to run the ball well; just another example of everything going right for them.

They won the Super Bowl, and what do all the opponents do in the off-season? They study the teams at the top. All the teams that were going to play New Orleans this season studied the Saints, looking for ways to beat them. How can we take away what they do best? What really works against their defense?

I believe teams have figured out they must protect the ball when they play the Saints, and, No. 2, you have to take away their check-down passes, screens and crossing routes.

It has been obvious all season every team has been better prepared to play them, like Cleveland was today. Plus, the Saints are not having the magical year this season. They are not getting the takeaways they had a year ago, and they are also having injuries that they didn’t have last season.

But the Saints are not a bad team. It is just they are not having that magical year. I didn’t view them last year as a dominant team, because when they won, they had a lot of things go their way.

Remember, Dallas came to New Orleans and won in December and then the Saints lost two more at the end. But they played with tremendous confidence because everything was going right for them. They are not playing with the same confidence this year.

I also don’t believe Brees is 100 percent healthy with that left knee of his. He’s playing, but they have some injury problems even with some of their key guys like Bush and Thomas. They just got safety Darren Sharper back, and he played such a big part in creating turnovers, plus he returned three for scores last season.

Fans have to understand this is a different team and, more importantly, a different year. And the expectations are a lot higher than they should be for the Saints.

Steelers took a punch

Pittsburgh had a difficult time with Miami today, and the Steelers were very fortunate at the end with Ben Roethlisberger’s fumble. The replay wasn’t conclusive on which team recovered the ball, giving the Steelers a chance to kick the winning field goal. But let’s not forget Pittsburgh had put the ball on the one-yard line.

Miami is an underrated team. I mean, you think of the Dolphins from years past and don’t think of them as a physical team. But they are a physical team under Tony Sparano, especially at home. Any team that can go up to Minnesota and then up to Green Bay and beat both of those teams is pretty good.

Miami has played everybody on their schedule tough, and that’s with a young quarterback. Chad Henne has gotten steadily better. The Dolphins were able to throw the ball against the Steelers, which is no small feat, and they hung in there kicking field goals. Their biggest problem was they had to settle for field goals instead of punching it in for touchdowns.

The Steelers ended up getting a break down at the goal line. Roethlisberger fumbles going into the end zone, but he was going in. I know people will look at that play and say that cost Miami the game, but he was on the one-yard line. To me, the Steelers deserved to win the game. But, by the same token, the Dolphins are a much better team than people think right now because they are so physical.

The bad part for the Dolphins is their division is so tough – probably the best division in football with New England and the Jets – and it looks like they could be the odd team out of the playoffs. They have lost to three really good teams now at home, the Steelers, Patriots and Jets. They are the only team to win three on the road and lose three at home this season.

Bucs win again

It’s hard to give Tampa Bay a lot of credit, because we didn’t have any expectations for the Bucs coming into this season. And even when they win a game, whom did they beat? It’s hard to get excited about the Bucs, but they have won four games.

One reason they are 4-2 is because they have given great effort. It’s a never-give-up type attitude, and they are getting great play out of their young quarterback, Josh Freeman. He looks like a talented player who can make plays. He’s also a big guy who can run for first downs when opponents play man-to-man coverage. He has a big enough arm to make the throws.

Eagles couldn’t stop Britt

I don’t put the Eagles’ loss on Kevin Kolb. I know Andy Reid said Michael Vick will be back in there as the starter after the bye week, but no one really knows what Reid is going to do. I mean, Kolb could remain the starter.

The Eagles lost this game because they couldn’t cover Kenny Britt. The Eagles had this game won, but their secondary had problems. Then, all of sudden, Kerry Collins just started heaving it into coverage in the second quarter, down the field, and Britt came up with the plays. Philadelphia had the defensive backs there, but they failed to make a play on the ball.

And Tennessee is a good team. I thought Philadelphia played pretty well with the exception of the big plays it allowed Britt.

Shanahan making his mark

On one hand, you will say Washington-Chicago was a sloppy game. The final tally was nine turnovers, three by the Washington and six by Chicago. But give the Bears credit; they do a great job of knocking the ball out from runners and receivers. They caused those turnovers.

Now, with Jay Cutler, yes, he threw four interceptions, but he had people all over him. And as quick as people want to jump on Mike Martz, the offensive coordinator – me included on that – the offensive line has to block somebody. The 27 sacks on Cutler is proof that they are not protecting him. A lot of times those sacks were caused by defenders coming in scot-free, not even being touched. It’s hard for Cutler to have any confidence when he has somebody in his face on every play.

Of these two teams, I think Mike Shanahan is doing a great job with the Redskins. You look at the Redskins’ stats on offense and defense, and they are near the bottom of the league. But they hang in there and make plays. They didn’t look really good, but they won. They have done that now four different times.