The New Orleans Saints return home to the comfortable confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this Monday Night after suffering yet another last-minute heart-breaking loss to the New York Giants last Sunday — a loss that gave them an 0-2 start “out of the gate” for a 3rd consecutive season.
Although the season is still very young, many fans are beginning to worry about their future because of a rather harsh statistic that essentially says that teams that begin the NFL season at 0-2 teams virtually have no shot whatsoever (only a 12% chance) of making the playoffs.
However, Saints fans should be cautioned that not all hope is lost; and that there are many ways the Saints beat the odds and become one of those squads that comprise that 12 percent statistic
One thing already in their favor is how close that they’ve already come to tasting victory. It isn’t as if the Saints have been blown out, as we have seen happen them on more than one occasion in recent seasons (2014 and 2015).
Week #1 of the new season the Saints squared off against the Oakland Raiders; and while we all remember how that game ended, the Saints were a like a well-oiled machine on the offensive side of the ball.
But the game started to slip from their hands as the defense let go of a 14 point led that they had going into the fourth quarter go, and they gave up 22 Raider points in the 4th quarter alone to seal their fate.
Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Oakland Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree (15) makes a catch for a two-point conversion while defended by New Orleans Saints cornerback Ken Crawley (46) late in the fourth quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Raiders won 35-34. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Last Sunday, the defense was nothing short of outstanding for a majority of the afternoon, as they were able to hold the Giants to only 13 points — but that was only until the Giants kicked a last minute field goal to avoid overtime; and win the game with 16 points after they had put up 49 against the very same defense the year before.
The issue this time was that the Saints offense couldn’t get it going, and was only able to match the Giants points-wise until the very end.
Hopefully we all can see the patterns here.
Week #1 it was the defense couldn’t get it done, and Week #2 the offense couldn’t get it done. This is extremely frustrating for not only fans, but players like star wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
“We’re one play away from both games, and you got to understand that we could easily be sitting here 2-0.” Cooks said when asked his feelings about the season thus far.
While the entire Who Dat Nation is sharing in Cooks’ grief (and yes — they have been only one score away in the last minute of both games from winning), there is way more to it then just getting “unlucky” in final minutes of a game.
We have seen in back-to-back games that either side of the ball couldn’t muster up what they needed to assist each other in order to win.
If the defense could hold out and finish the game strong, the Saints could have beaten the Raiders.
If the offense were able to put up the performance they had in Week #1 the following week at New York, the Saints could have beaten the Giants and be sitting atop the NFC South division at 2-0.
But instead, they are at the bottom at 0-2.
Sep 18, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz (80) and New Orleans Saints cornerback Ken Crawley (46) go for a long fourth quarter pass at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Obviously, the issue of “finishing” games and playing on both sides of the ball for a whole 60 minutes is one that needs to be addressed going forward, with none other than the despised arch-rival Falcons coming to town.
The last thing the Saints need is to find themselves at 0-3 — especially at the mercy of the Falcons.
Progress is the name of the game for the Saints at this point however, as they are trying to save their season from crashing down all around them not even a quarter of a way into the season.
Even with all the injuries and issues the Saints are plagued with, it is clear to understand why Cooks is upset, especially seeing the possibilities of winning those games and being 2-0.
But — that’s over.
The Saints are 0-2, and as much as their fans and the organization itself doesn’t like it, that is the reality that they are forced to live with.
All focus has now been shifted to their first divisional and prime-time game against their longest and most hated opponent in the Dirty Birds.
As of right now, the Falcons lead the rivalry by 2 games (48-46), with the Saints on their current win streak in the series at 2 games, following last year’s sweep.
If this Monday Night turns out to be anything like the Thursday Night game that the Saints had against these same Falcons last year, then this could finally be the game that puts New Orleans back on course and into the direction that they intended to begin with.
Oct 15, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) breaks away as Atlanta Falcons strong safety Kemal Ishmael (36) and middle linebacker Paul Worrilow (55) attempt to tackle during the fourth quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Falcons 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
A win would tie them with the Falcons at 1-2, and they’d actually be ahead of them in the division.
If the Panthers and Buccaneers also both lose this weekend, then the entire NFC South division would be tied 1-2.
That is the best case scenario for the Saints this week, although at this point they just simply need to focus on beating the Falcons.
However, the question that is impossible to avoid at the moment is of course the obvious one that Saints fans are asking at the moment: are they capable of being a playoff team?
According to NFL stats and history, that answer is no.
This goes back to the much talked about statistic which says that since the NFL realigned its divisions back in 2002, only 12% of all teams that have started 0-2 have come back to make the playoffs, let alone finish with a positive season.
When you factor in the additional obstacle that the Saints have had to face with yet another year of an inordinate amount of injuries that has devastated the depth chart and has taken away key players like Delvin Breaux, Halo’ Kikaha, Sheldon Rankins, and now second year corner P.J. Williams, and the odds seem even that much longer.
But despite all these set backs, the Saints can and have been putting up a fight.
Sep 18, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Willie Snead (83) catches a touchdown pass during the second half at MetLife Stadium. The Giants defeated the Saints 16-13. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
We have seen that they are capable of winning games against some above average teams, so that’s a good start.
Now it’s time to get to the next step, and that is to win the games.
More from New Orleans Saints
- New Orleans Saints: Three biggest questions heading into the offseason
- New Orleans Saints: Three positives to take from playoff loss
- New Orleans Saints: Bold predictions for Wild Card Round vs. Vikings
- New Orleans Saints: Complete roster breakdown vs. Minnesota Vikings
- New Orleans Saints: The one overarching reason why the Vikings will lose
The season is far from being over, but they need to simply focus on just winning a game at this point.
The way for the Saints to “get around” the mythical 12% is to have consistency at every level and control the ENTIRE game, especially in the fourth quarter.
The Saints have lost two tightly contested games, and have just let teams get past them in the fourth quarter.
The defense needs to just simply be good enough to finish what they started, and play through the final minutes of the game.
For the other side of the ball, they need to have consistency. A Top 5 offense cannot put up nearly 500 yards of total offense one week, and only get one touchdown the next.
The talent is there and the Saints have a team capable of achieving success, but nothing will work if they can’t pull together as team for all four quarters.
Sep 18, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz (80) and New Orleans Saints cornerback Ken Crawley (46) go for a fourth quarter pass at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
I mentioned many times what the Saints could be, but the most important thing is to not see the “what if’s” and focus on the reality of the situations.
The reality: there are four Saints on IR, all on the defense.
Their prized free agent signing in the off-season, tight end Coby Fleener, has noticeably struggled and is said to have had trouble grasping the offensive playbook.
There is essentially no semblance of a running game, and that is with five active running backs being on the rooster.
And of course most importantly, the inability to “finish off” an opponent and not being up to playing a full four quarter game as they seemingly lose steam at the end of games, coming back to bite them in the end.
The simple fact is that they aren’t playing well enough to be a playoff team, bottom line.
But that doesn’t mean they can’t be.
Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) and wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) celebrate after a touchdown during the second quarter of a game against the Oakland Raiders at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
It’s not hard to see the Saints being a playoff team, but for them the hardest part will actually be getting there — with teams like Carolina, Denver, Kansas City, and Seattle still upcoming on the schedule.
It only takes one game to turn everything around, and if the Saints can fix their mistakes, play better than they have been, and then play a complete game from start to finish, anything is possible.
While winning the Super Bowl is the ultimate goal for any franchise, it takes a lot for a team to do that.
The Saints should definitely be focused and motivated to try to make it to the playoffs, especially with the diminishing time they have with Brees, but their main concern should be building a team that is ready to make that push — and win the Super Bowl when they get there.
True Saints fans realize and fully expect that this year might not be “the Saints’ year” this year, but certainly it is an important stepping stone to climb their way back to the top.
Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) catches a touchdown pass over Oakland Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden (25) and defensive back Reggie Nelson (27) during the second quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
The Saints now have players in place to take this team to a better spot than last year and possibly even make the playoffs, but it wont be easy.
However, no silly or over-hyped stat is going to discourage Payton and the Saints, especially not when all their focus is on beating the Falcons when they come into town on Monday Night.
Slowly but surely and with one game at a time, the Saints can get back to where they always had planned to be.
For the Saints to find a way to beat the odds, the formula for success is a simple equation.