Saints fans are still coming down from the emotional high of last week’s thrilling victory over the Seattle Seahawks. But it’s imperative that the Saints themselves don’t let their guard down against a cornered San Francisco 49ers team this Sunday.
After what can only be described as a disappointing beginning to the 2016 season, between the injuries to key defensive contributors and an 0-3 start, the Saints have shown serious signs that they might be righting the ship.
They are 3-1 in their last four games, and key defensive contributors Delvin Breaux and Sheldon Rankins are expected to be back on the field imminently, possibly this Sunday.
On paper, New Orleans has a great opportunity to level its season record at 4-4 as they face off against the 1-6 San Francisco 49ers. However, the Saints must travel to San Francisco, the place where the 49ers earned their lone win of the year back in Week #1.
The 49ers have proven to be a particularly painful thorn in the Saints side in recent years. Most Saints fans, myself included, will never fully recover from that 2011 playoff loss when Alex Smith connected with Vernon Davis for a game winning touchdown with virtually no time left on the clock.
In my opinion, the Saints were THE best team in the NFL that season, and if it hadn’t been for that loss, they very likely would have crushed a New York Giants team the next week (that they had beaten soundly earlier that season) on the way to earning their second Super Bowl title.
To add insult to injury, Bountygate was made public not long after that — and to be honest, the Saints defense is still recovering.
Jan 14, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers safety Donte Whitner(31) hits New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas (23) during the first quarter at Candlestick Park. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, 36-32. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmonson-US PRESSWIRE
Then there was the devastating loss at home to the 49ers in 2014.
The chain reaction of plays that allowed the 49ers to escape with a win at the dome are seared into memory.
Up by three with about a minute left to play, the Saints had the 49ers pinned at their 22-yard line, facing a 4th and 10.
Colin Kaepernick escaped the pocket under heavy duress, and heaved a 51 yard pass to Michael Crabtree, who had inexplicably gotten behind the Saints defense.
New Orleans appeared to win the game in regulation when Drew Brees connected on a Hail Mary pass to Jimmy Graham. However, Graham was called for a push off and the touchdown was nullified. The Saints would go on to lose the game in overtime.
Nov 9, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) catches the ball to score a touchdown as San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver (29) defends during the third quarter at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
This year’s 2016 49ers team is much different than ones that have gotten the better of New Orleans in the past.
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They have fired two head coaches in that span, and embattled new head coach Chip Kelly might be on his last stint in the NFL.
Colin Kaepernick remains, but he is far from the quarterback who once led the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance.
However, Carlos Hyde is emerging as one of the best young backs in the NFL and the 49ers are a proud franchise. Trust me when I say, a 1-6 start does not sit well with any of them.
They are coming off a bye week, and the trickster Kelly will undoubtedly incorporate some wrinkles that New Orleans haven’t seen before.
The Saints proved themselves vulnerable against the Seahawks by giving up a huge trick play that led to a touchdown. Often times in the NFL. the most dangerous opponent is a desperate one.
Oct 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde (28) runs the ball against the Dallas Cowboys during the second quarter at Levi
Drew Brees has repeatedly said in press conferences that he views New Orleans as an ascending team.
They proved him correct last Sunday rising to the occasion to vanquish one of the better teams in the league.
However, recent Saints teams have been up and down, playing tremendously one week, only to lose a winnable game the next.
The Saints must prove themselves consistent and start their second winning streak of the season.