Saints must play ‘game of their lives’ against the Falcons
By John Hendrix
It’s hard to find much optimism for the struggling New Orleans Saints right now. From social media outlets to local media to national reporters, resounding themes of disappointment exist. Power rankings pit the Saints towards the bottom of the barrel. Quiet whispers and rumors grow of the beginning of the end for the Sean Payton era. The once heralded powerful juggernaut of the NFC South is slowly dwindling to non-contenders these days.
Doom and gloom?
It wasn’t supposed to be this way for the black and gold, at least not heading into the season. By all accounts, getting key players back coupled with promising new talent was only supposed to help retool the team. Flushing the cancers in the locker room from last season were only supposed to change the direction of Sean Payton’s team and their fortune. In reality, injuries, mistakes, free agent misses, lack of execution, and overall poor play have found this team staring at a giant 1-4 hole.
The expression goes without saying, but when it rains, it pours.
Although an increasing minority of fans have found themselves throwing in the towel on the season, players have not. Naturally, you can default to this being a pretty ‘vanilla‘ attitude. After all, haven’t you heard this before? Yes, there’s plenty of football left, and over the years we’ve witnessed teams doing the impossible. However, do you honestly believe that this year’s Saints team can actually pull it off?
There is no quit
When asked about the team’s start on Monday and if he was frustrated, running back Mark Ingram said, “No, I’m good. I’m not happy with our start of course, nobody is, but I am confident in the players that we have in the locker room. I feel like we all stick together and we’re going to push through this. It’s not the start we wanted, but I’m not frustrated by any means. I have confidence in our team.”
Confidence is a common theme you find synonymous with the team, despite a poor start. Head coach Sean Payton stated Tuesday, “I think we’ve got a group that is very focused. I think they understand the margin for error that we’re playing with. They understand what wins and loses. That is the thing that is inspiring as a coach, because easily, when all of a sudden you’re 1-4, you can feel like ‘man, are we having to pull teeth to get a good practice in or to get an install in.’ Those are the things that encourage me and I think we’ve got real good leadership. I think that’s where it starts.”
Whether you truly buy into the demeanor and answers you get from the top down is likely irrelevant. The truth is that up until the second half of Sunday’s blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, it was hard to suggest anything other than seeing a team fighting every step of the way. That simply wasn’t the case last season.
However, let’s look at facts. Sean Payton’s team has downright struggled in the past three seasons. From 2009-2011, the team went on a 37-11 tear, winning 77 percent of their games. Post Bounty Gate, it’s a much different tale, with Payton’s squad barely over .500 at 19-18. Needless to say, the New Orleans Saints are in a bit of a tailspin, and Atlanta could be just what the doctor ordered.
The task at hand
The Atlanta Falcons are clearly the superior team heading into Thursday night, and it’s been over a decade since you found them so heavily favored by the masses. The most shocking part of this continues to be that fans are actually picking the Falcons to blowout the Saints. It’s gotten to be that bad.
In reality, confidence in our players and coaches are all we have to hold onto right now. We have to trust and take their word for it. We have to believe that Sean Payton can truly start being a more effective play-caller while offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael should probably be given a chance. We have to believe that the offensive line can somewhat resemble what we built them up to be in the beginning: revamped. We have to believe that struggling players like Zach Strief, Brandon Browner, Jairus Byrd, and Drew Brees get it together.
At the end of the day, belief is all we have left to hold onto.
Make no mistake about it, this is the game of the year. There’s plenty of reasons to be excited about this game, despite what a record says. For starters, it’s arguably the Saints most hated rival. It’s also the very first Thursday Night Football game that the Saints will host. Lastly, it’s a chance for revenge. Last season saw the Falcons sweep the Saints for the first time since the 2005 season, and I don’t have to remind you of how agonizing last year’s home defeat was.
The very likelihood of the season rests upon this game, whether you want to admit it or not. Let’s all hope, believe, and confide in the New Orleans Saints, at least one more time.