Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Enemy On The Plank: New Orleans Saints

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The Buccaneers aren’t officially eliminated from the playoffs, but they’re backs are against the wall. Even a win in New Orleans on Sunday doesn’t mean they will stay alive as the Bucs playoff dreams are officially out of their hands and they do no control their destiny. That being said, there is still a game on Sunday and it’s a big one against the Saints.

We sat down with Saints writer Katherine Terrell of the Times-Picayune and NOLA.com to find out how the recent bountygate rulings are effecting New Orleans, if Drew Brees status as a legend has been hurt by this season and if the Bucs can pull one out on the road.

Bountygate is going dominate the game day news cycle since both the Bucs and Saints are basically out of the playoff hunt. Before we dig into things, what side were you on when this all started: were you with the players or did you side with the NFL trying to protect other players. Or were you an undecided voter, so to speak? 

Katherine Terrell: As a reporter, I just try to look at all the facts, so I really didn’t take a side. I did think that the NFL overstepped their reach in the way the punishments were conducted and the whole thing was drawn out. You can point to Scott Fujita as an example. The NFL first suspended him for three games, then for one, but chided him for not telling the coaches to stop the bounty program. Then they cleared him completely. A lot of things in this whole drawn out process haven’t been handled correctly. I don’t think both sides or completely innocent or guilty in all of this though.

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What’s the feeling in New Orleans after the ruling by Paul Tagliague? Did it erode whatever little favorability there was for Roger Goodell, or was that gone well before Tagliabue came into the picture?

Terrell: People are very excited, I think a lot of fans, and the players obviously, feel vindicated right now. Honestly, I don’t think Goodell had any favorability left in New Orleans, so it didn’t make much of a difference. More than anything I think it’s a little comfort to the fans that at least something went right for them, after the way the season has gone.

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To say this has been a tumultuous season for the Saints would be to understate things greatly. Has Sean Payton’s absence really had that great an effect, or has that been a crutch to lean on as to avoid saying the Saints just had an off year this season? 

Terrell: Oh it definitely had an effect. You can’t take away a team’s leader and expect things to go on as usual. You could point to some games and say “this would have happened with or without Sean Payton,” but I really think it just changed the entire season. Not only that, the position groups lost two long-time assistant coaches for some time—Vitt for several games obviously and Kromer in a way, because he had to turn his attention to head coaching duties. I think a lot of fans were still expecting Super Bowl despite all of it, and it was just too much to overcome.

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Does this “lost” season do anything to harm Drew Brees status as an untouchable legend in New Orleans? Many of his critics are citing this season and Payton’s absence as proof Brees isn’t the leader in New Orleans we thought he was. Are those people looking into stats too much and overlooking how Brees may have held this team together, or are they on to something in their critique? 

Terrell: Not at all. Drew Brees will always be a popular figure in New Orleans, and a few bad games won’t change that. You’ll always find someone who wants to grumble about the contract situation and how it may have affected the season, but I really think as a whole, this season isn’t going to change Saints fans reception of Brees. I think people understand there were just too many extenuating circumstances for this season to end the way they wanted. When all is said and done, particularly if next season is successful, people won’t dwell on it too much. 

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Both of the secondaries on Sunday are bad, and that’s a pleasant and politically correct way of putting it. How confident are you that this Saints defense can rattle Josh Freeman enough to keep him a step behind Drew Brees? 

Terrell: They are definitely capable of it. Last week’s score aside, this defense keeps getting better every week. Last week the penalties, turnovers and kickoff coverage put the defense on a short field much of the game, so you really have to throw that out. They forced Manning into throwing two interceptions last week. It really just comes down to how they bounce back from that performance. 

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How afraid of Doug Martin are you? Last time the Saints played the Bucs, Martin had yet to breakout. Now that he has, and New Orleans is a week removed from being gashed by another rookie running back, do you think Martin plays a more fatal role this time around against the Saints defense or will New Orleans hold their own? 

Terrell: The Saints definitely won’t be overlooking Martin. He’s on the verge of one of the best seasons in Buccaneers’ history. I think he’s going to make some big plays today. It’ll be hard for him not to, just considering the Saints have only had one game where they allowed less than 100 yards rushing this season. But I think they’re willing to accept that if they can just play good red zone defense. I think he’ll play a big role.

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If there’s one way the Saints can lose this game, what is it and will it happen?

Terrell: Turnovers. The Saints have been bleeding turnovers lately. If they continue to be their own worst enemy, they’re not going to win.

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Alright, money is on the line. Who wins on Sunday in the Superdome? Is it a one horse race, or do we get more of a photo finish? 

Terrell: These are two desperate teams right now. You can throw conventional logic out the window. I think it’s going to be a close one similar to their last meeting, but ultimately the Saints win.

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