Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 9/12/12

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 07: Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints watches the game against the Indianapolis Colts from the sidelines during Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

In last Sunday’s season opener, the Washington Redskins upset the New Orleans Saints in a game that could only be described by Saints fans as staggering, sobering, and somewhat unexpected considering the team’s strong, recent past.

One of my bold predictions for this game was that though Mike Shanahan is an extremely talented and reputable coach, and though the Saints have rotated coaches like they’re going out of style, the Saints and their coaches would prove everybody wrong. They would lead New Orleans to continued victories in spite of the offseason’s tumult and uncertainty.

Instead, the tremendous hole that head coach Sean Payton left was extremely vacant and painfully obvious.

Thanks, guys, for proving me wrong. And for leaving the Who Dat Nation completely dumbfounded.

I’m not too surprised that we were completely out-coached. This is Mike Shanahan we’re talking about. And even though the two years he’s coached the Redskins have been losing seasons, those losses can’t be completely attributed to his coaching by any means.

With a versatile weapon like Robert Griffin III, Shanahan can really shine as the Super Bowl-winning maestro he is. The entire game against the Saints, RG3 and Shanahan kept the Saints’ defense wobbling and on their toes, and the Redskins defense contained the Saints in a way fans hadn’t seen in a long time.

Shanahan and RG3 aside, what really sent a chill up the spines of Saints fans was the awful realization the Who Dat Nation has been dreading to accept.

The loss of Sean Payton just may affect the Saints much more than anybody thought—or hoped—this year.

Granted, this was only the first game of the season. And the Saints played a great rookie quarterback—with something to prove in his first NFL appearance—and an established team of coaches.

But there were obvious deficits in play-calling on both sides of the ball, some of which may never be fixed without Payton’s patented masterminding.

Besides expert play-calling, Sean Payton instills a discipline in his players that has taken them to multiple playoffs and a Super Bowl win. The lack of that discipline was clear amidst the inexcusable amount of penalties, dropped passes, and missed opportunities that plagued the Saints’ performance in Sunday’s game from start to finish.

Whatever happened to Payton’s inspiring last words, “Do your job”?

Payton’s presence was also missed when replacement referees botched calls against the Saints. Shanahan, for example, even though his team was up by 13, still got in the face of a ref who he felt made a poor judgment call against the Redskins.

Payton too was always one to go to bat for his team, inspiring and motivating his players by going strong until the last ball was snapped. Interim head coach Aaron Kromer was a bit more on the quiet side this last game, perhaps to the detriment of a few Saints plays.

Unless the Saints’ performance changes drastically over the coming weeks, perhaps the only positive possibility left is that after Vitt’s six-game suspension is up, we may see some overall improvement. A bit more disciplined like Payton, Vitt will hopefully reignite the flame Payton left burning—a flame which could quickly be smoked out by the Saints’ upcoming lineup of tough opponents.

Bottom line: Regardless of how the Saints end up performing this season, the loss of Sean Payton has sent a startling shockwave throughout the franchise and fans alike. Saints fans are inordinately excited about the regular season finally being here after a long, tortuous summer of accusations and suspensions, but Payton’s season-long suspension may seem equally as agonizing.



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