East Jefferson General Hospital

Damage Control Week 14: New Orleans Saints vs. New York Giants
Written by Mackie Shilstone   

I never will forget the phrase "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat," which was part of the voice over to the opening scenes to ABC's "Wide World of Sports" every Saturday years ago. While I barely remember the scene of the thrill of victory, to this day, I can vividly remember the scene of the agony of defeat, which had a ski jumper careen off the side of the ski jump just before take off, only to crash into the grandstand, ski poles, and people during his tumultuous, horrific fall to his ultimate resting place at the bottom of the slope. It certainly made an impression on me, as to the potential damage control in sports participation.

But what about the emotional side of such a personal defeat, after what may have been this ski jumper's years of preparation for this one great moment in time, only to come crashing down to not only physical injury, but also having to live with years of watching his defeat every Saturday on a popular network sports television show?

Flash forward to last Thursday night's prime-time NFL Network cable game between our Saints and their archrival Falcons in Atlanta. When the Saints' team charter arrived in Atlanta, their bus to the hotel was pelted with eggs before they could even get off the tarmac, which was just the beginning to a physical and emotional beating at the hands of the Falcons.

Needless to say when you are a paid professional, hired guns, as pro teams and players are, representing the emotions of their fans around the world and the city they represent, the teams take ownership of the fans' anger, frustration, happiness, indifference, hostility, and above all, pride. Keep in mind, the emotions I am referring to may have nothing to do with either team's status going into last Thursday night matchup.

Rather, fans are human. Like most people, we are coming off a hostile presidential election filled with negativism, a local, national, and world economy in peril, violent conflicts in Syria, Egypt, Israel, and parts of Africa, not to mention an impending budget impasse, which threatens to raise taxes on all of us, if not corrected by year's end.

Going into Sunday's game in New York against the Giants, we will not consider those five injured Saints players that were out of action Thursday night in Atlanta. Nor will we consider for the moment the players playing injured, or the Saints bodies thrown to the ground with resounding force by the Falcons. What we will need to consider is the emotional and mental damage to the minds of each and every Saints player, coach, trainer, and staff member on the long, one-hour flight home to New Orleans from Atlanta in the dead of night last Thursday.

With that said, we, the fans, need a scapegoat for OUR loss to Atlanta and the associated embarrassment to OUR pride before a national (limited cable) audience. NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune columnist Jeff Duncan in his last Sunday sports column, "Brees deserves all the blame," said "Brees wasn't part of the reason the New Orleans Saints lost to the Falcons 23-13. He was THE reason they (the Saints) lost." Keep in mind Brees has a $100 million contract -- the highest in the NFL -- a sizable amount of that contract already in his pocket, and much of the remainder guaranteed to himself and Uncle Sam. What does Brees need to worry about? Not only is he set for life win or lose, but so is his wife, their children, and any future grandchildren as well. Not a bad way to handle the emotional side of losing. Or, is it?

Keep in mind that the blame thrust on Brees began several weeks ago with his less than adequate performances in recent games, inconsistent with a $100 million price tag. It culminated in Atlanta by Brees throwing five interceptions against the Falcons, which matched the most thrown by a Saints quarterback since Archie Manning.

Brees was quick to assume the blame. "It doesn't matter how they happened, the responsibility is mine," Brees said after the game.

I do not think that despite good intentions, interim head coach Joe Vitt did justice to Brees' damaged psyche, when he said at the postgame press conference," I think Drew is well-prepared." Coach Vitt should have said, "I know Brees is well-prepared."

I have been around pro sports both at a team level in all sports, as well as with the individual athlete, for more than 30 years. I have seen the ins and outs, been part of great victories and defeats, and the good and bad side of competition.

Drew Brees strikes me as an attention to detail person, who leaves no stone unturned in his mental and physical preparation for whatever he does, whether it be as a husband, father, or teammate.

We may forget one thing. Brees is just human, despite playing a child's game, which can be paralleled with video games of the like and even a dreamland called NFL fantasy leagues.

I am not here to defend or prosecute Brees for his recent miscues. Rather, Brees is not playing in an individual athlete sport like tennis. He is playing in a team sport, where you win or lose as a team. Brees had much help in the mistakes leading to the Saints' demise in Atlanta last Thursday.

Unfortunately, our NFL players are looked upon as cartoon heroes, who smash into each other week after week, and who possess no emotions much less any ability to feel pain.

Speaking of physical pain, just look at Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief's return to the Falcons' game after being out three games with a groin strain; the second most debilitating NFL injury behind the hamstring injury. Take it from me, having spent 10 years working with NHL St. Louis Blues Hockey Team, where 30 percent of the NHL groin injuries (top NHL injury) are fatigued related, Strief was in trouble from the get-go. He had no choice but to play hurt, since the other two tackles were out along with three other Saints (five total) for this game. Media reports said, "he (Strief) clearly wasn't back at 100 percent. Strief got beat by (Atlanta) defensive ends John Abraham and Kroy Biermann for big plays."

Brees was then the recipient of a hole in the dam, where Falcons players flooded that weakened side of the Saints' offensive line and the rest is history.

As a pro athlete, you learn to deal with bad things that can happen more times than often such as failure. According to Lance Green, a mental skills training consultant, you come out of the disaster (as Drew Brees did) one of two ways: as a victim blaming others, or a survivor, seeking guidance from the lessens learned and move forward.

Of course, Brees blamed no one but himself for the loss at Atlanta. Green made an interesting observation, "you have to have a bank of mental skills -- short memory, the ability to frame the event to seek closure, and be accountable -- to learn from past mistakes." In other words, "fix it, flush it, and move on," Green said.

This weeks Saints game against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants has some interesting overtones. First, the Giants had much to think about on their midnight train ride home from a 17-16 comeback defeat by the Redskins last Monday night in Washington.

The Giants could have basically knocked the Redskins out of much hope for a playoff spot with a win and pushed the Cowboys back two games with only four games remaining. Now, both the Redskins and the Cowboys are right back in the playoff hunt along with the Giants.

To make matters worse, the Giants lost starting offensive tackle Sean Locklear for the season with a "gruesome knee injury."

Talk about a psychological disaster, Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said, "as a coach, that flat out eats away at your gut. How can a team with something this important on the line (referring to the playoff hunt) be this careless (referring to the Giants nine penalties that killed several drives)."

This Wednesday on their NFL injury list, the Giants had four players who did not practice, including notable players such as running back Ahmad Bradshaw with a foot injury and free safety Tyler Sash with a hamstring injury. In looking over the Giants entire global injury list since Week 1, what strikes me is the total weekly number of players noted with some form of injury. They seem to play well while hurt, at least to this point in the season, despite their collapse in Washington last week.

As noted earlier, the Saints held out five players from last week's game against Atlanta with injuries -- a rather high number this late in the season. However, four of the five players (Junior Galette, Isa Abdul-Quddus, Tom Johnson, and Courtney Roby) were listed Wednesday on the Saints injury report as "full participation." Offensive tackle Charles Brown was the holdover who did not practice this week with his knee injury.

Even better news for the Saints was that by Thursday's practice there were far more FP designations (full participation) listed on the Saints' injury report on previously injured players.

The Giants, based on their injury report Thursday, seem to be "nicked up." But expect them to come out Sunday slugging.

Both the Saints and the Giants are in desperate situations. And desperate people do desperate things such as all hands on deck wounded or not. The Saints need to salvage their self-respect, and the Giants cannot afford another loss. Both their rivals, the Cowboys and the Redskins, have games earlier in the day Sunday, so the Giants become even more desperate, if they see that one or both teams have won by the time the Saints vs. Giants kicks off at 3:25 p.m. central time.

I think you can also eliminate the Giants' home-field advantage to a point, since the Saints should allow nothing, such as being in hostile territory, to get in their way of reclaiming their pride. I suspect a game such as this one will come down to who has the ball last when the clock runs out.