New Orleans Saints 2021 Season Recapby John Lepore January 12, 2022 1 comment
The New Orleans Saints entered this season having won the NFC South four years in a row. Of course, expectations were slightly tempered as they would have a starting quarterback other than Drew Brees for the first time since 2005. They would also have to deal with the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers who knocked them out of the playoffs on their way to a Super Bowl victory.
The season started off about as well as expected as the Saints went 5-2 in their first seven games including big wins against the Green Bay Packers and the Buccaneers. Winston’s season ended in that Tampa Bay game as he suffered a torn ACL. Already without Michael Thomas and Winston, the Saints lost Alvin Kamara for four games as the Saints lost five in a row. Even though they went 4-1 over the last five games, they missed the postseason on the last day of the season.
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What Went Right
Despite some growing pains in the first few weeks, Winston played well. In the three games leading up to the Buccaneers game, the Saints quarterback averaged 242 yards and had six touchdowns to just one interception. Kamara was his usual dominant self. In just 13 games, the running back put up 1,337 yards from scrimmage. On the defensive side of the ball, the Saints played well overall and really found their groove over the last five games. They held opponents to an average of 250 yards per game and just 12 points per game. The highlight, of course, was handing Tom Brady his first shutout since 2006.
What Went Wrong
Injuries played a huge role in the Saints just missing the playoffs. Kamara missed four games, Winston got hurt in Week 7, and Thomas, who was expected back by around Week 8, never returned. The offense had no one else to depend on as no receiver topped 50 catches or 700 yards. Marquez Callaway and Tre’Quan Smith looked promising as the Saints entered the season, but that never materialized as they combined for just 78 catches and 1,075 yards. All of this added up to the Saints finishing 28th in total yards and dead last in passing yards.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Alvin Kamara
As mentioned earlier, Kamara missed four games this season. Naturally, the Saints were 0-4 in those contests. At the beginning of the year, while Winston was still getting completely acclimated to the playbook, Kamara averaged 22 touches and 105 scrimmage yards per game as the Saints went 5-2. He also led the team in receptions with 47 and accounted for over 25 percent of the team’s total yardage.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Calvin Throckmorton
Throckmorton was an undrafted free agent when he signed with the Saints after the 2020 NFL Draft. He didn’t make the 53-man roster that year. This year was different as the Oregon lineman made the team and was thrust into service almost immediately. In the season opener against Green Bay, Throckmorton jumped in at right guard when Cesar Ruiz moved over to center to cover for the injured Erik McCoy. The 6-foot-5, 317-pounder then slid over to left guard in Week 7 when Andrus Peat suffered a season-ending injury. Throckmorton played every snap in 11 games this year and also contributed on special teams.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Paulson Adebo
The third-round pick out of Stanford looked like a steal this year. He started all 17 games, tied for the team lead with three interceptions, and was second on the team with eight passes defended. Adebo also finished fifth on the Saints with 66 tackles. While he allowed 61.8 completion percentage along with 715 yards and five touchdowns, his future is very bright. With the Saints again in cap hell, Adebo could see tougher assignments next year.
Biggest Surprise – Blake Gillikin
New Orleans not only went into the season with a new quarterback for the first time in a while, but they also had a new punter for the first time since 2008. Thomas Morstead was cut in March and the Saints turned to Gillikin who was an undrafted free agent out of Penn State in 2020. He proved to be an excellent replacement for Morstead. Gillikin averaged 47.7 yards per punt which ranked seventh in the NFL. He also had plenty of work with 83 punts as the New Orleans offense was inconsistent at best all year. Gillikin won the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for October when he had 10 of 17 punts inside the 20.
Biggest Disappointment – Michael Thomas
Thomas didn’t play a snap all season. That is the disappointing part. Initially, he delayed surgery on his ankle until the summer of 2021. He was expected to possibly be back after six weeks. Thomas suffered a setback and was ruled out for the season in November. He is just two years removed from setting the single-season record with 149 receptions. He had 470 catches in his first four seasons along with 5,512 yards. The former Buckeye will be 29 years old in March and has a huge cap number. One has to wonder if Thomas will ever get back to even some of his previous production.
One Burning Question
Who will the Quarterback be in 2022?
Winston and Trevor Siemian are both free agents, Taysom Hill just suffered a Lisfranc injury in their final game of the season. Recovery time is 10-12 months so Hill may not be able to play at all next year. That leaves Ian Book who was a fourth-round pick this year out of Notre Dame. Of course, the Saints could get into the quarterback market with names like Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Deshaun Watson being floated out there. New Orleans is once again in trouble as far as the cap goes. That makes it tough to bring on a high-priced quarterback.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images