Just when it looked like the New Orleans Saints were down for the count, the fleurs-de-lis from the French Quarter bounced back off the mat with a 31–27 upset win over the previously unbeaten NFC South rival Atlanta Falcons.
There had been plenty of reasons to count out the Saints. The offseason suspensions of coach Sean Payton, middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, defensive end Will Smith and several other key members of the team’s coaching staff and roster as a result of “Bounty Gate” would have crippled most clubs. And when the appeals process spilled into the season, the ongoing feud with Commissioner Roger Goodell did not seem good for anything other than an off-field distraction of the highest order.
An 0–4 record to start the season reaffirmed the preconceived notion that the 2012 season was a placeholder year for New Orleans, a punishment for allegedly attempting to knock out Brett Favre, Kurt Warner and a handful of other players. After all, the Saints lost to a quartet of teams — the Redskins, Panthers, Chiefs and Packers — that carry a combined 12–24 record heading into Week 11. And Green Bay boasts half of those dozen combined victories.
But record-breaking Super Bowl XLIV MVP quarterback Drew Brees promised all was not lost. For some reason, he was convinced the 2012 season could be saved.
“This team is all in,” Brees said after a winless first quarter of the year. “They are on the cusp of becoming a very productive, winning team.”
It turns out, Brees wasn’t another big talker on Bourbon Street. The man who led New Orleans from the dark depths of Hurricane Katrina to the top of the Super Bowl mountain knew what he was talking about.
Since starting 0–4, the Saints have gone 4–1, a stretch during which Brees has thrown 15 TDs and just four INTs. As the famous saying goes: “They don’t ask how, they ask how many?” But this past week’s victory over the 8–0 Falcons meant more than just another notch in the win column. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan entered with a 2–6 career record against the Saints and a 1–3 mark on the road in what has been the Big un-Easy for him.
New Orleans intended to keep Ryan and Atlanta coach Mike Smith — who arrived in the division the same year as “Matty Ice” — on edge, while re-establishing the Saints as a legit contender in the NFC Wild Card race.
Following the statement victory, New Orleans has a 4–5 record and momentum on its side. And guess what? Just like earlier this season, Brees thinks the Saints are a team to be reckoned with.
“I feel like our best football is yet to come,” said Brees. “We’ve played some really good games, we’ve beaten some very good opponents in some big-time situations, but I truly believe that our best is yet to come.”