Earlier in the week, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton made some personnel changes following a disappointing loss to the St. Louis Rams the previous week. Cut from the roster was the hero from the 2009 NFC Championship game Garret Hartley, who had been struggling at different points through the 2013 NFL season. Also, starting left tackle Charles Brown was benched after being pulled out of the Rams’ game in the third quarter.
The rationale and hope for these swift decisions was that it would send a message to the rest of the team that any dip in quality of play and execution would be dealt with accordingly. It did not matter if you were the one who had sent the Saints to their first-ever Super Bowl or were a starter on the offensive line — you will be held accountable for not playing up to standards.
So in came veteran kicker Shayne Graham to replace Hartley and Payton opted to start rookie offensive linemen Terron Armstead at the left tackle position in place of Brown. Much was riding on these replacements in New Orleans’ Week 16 matchup against the Carolina Panthers. Unfortunately, the plan did not completely come to fruition and the Saints lost their second in a row, 17-13.
For the most part, Graham fulfilled the role he had been tasked with, knocking in a 40-yard field goal and followed it later with another from 24-yards out. His two field goals definitely helped keep the Saints in the game as their early offensive drives often stalled or went nowhere to begin with.
The Armstead experiment, however, was a disaster. He was flagged at least twice for false start penalties, and his rawness was exposed early and often as he was consistently getting beat by Panthers’ pass rushers. Quarterback Drew Brees was sacked six times and put up less than his usual stellar numbers.
Where the Saints go from here is anybody’s guess. All in all, it was just a disappointing day to be a Saints fan.