Saints must break systemic cycle of slow starts
This is nothing new, rather the same old same old, as the saying goes.
The New Orleans Saints of Sean Payton have been a slow starting team, for the most part, for whatever reasons. Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay was another example.
A season-opener expected by many to be the start of a Super Bowl run was instead humiliating for the Saints.
The theories run rampant. The most prevalent is that the Saints should take a serious look at playing starters more in the preseason to be “game ready.” Of course, there is the risk of injury by doing so.
Whatever the reason is, the Saints have not been bad in any of the last five seasons when they have started 0-2 or worse.
In 2014, the Saints lost 37-34 in overtime at Atlanta to open the season before losing at Cleveland 26-24 to open the season 0-2. They went .500 the rest of the way to finish 7-9.
In 2015, the Saints lost at Arizona 31-19 before losing at home to Tampa Bay and on the road to Carolina to start 0-3. The team rallied to finish 7-9.
In 2016, the Saints lost 35-34 at home to Oakland before losing at the Giants at home to Atlanta to start 0-3. Once again, the Saints would come back to finish 7-9.
In 2017, New Orleans lost 29-19 at Minnesota before falling 36-20 at home to New England to open the season 0-2. New Orleans then turned on the jets, winning 11 of their last 14 games to finish 11-5 and won the NFC South and a playoff game.
For perspective, this is nothing new.
Payton was absent in 2012, due to suspension, but the Saints started 0-4 and were buried. They rallied to finish 7-9. They lost their 2011 opener at Green Bay. 42-34 but came back to win 13 of their last 15 games to go 13-3, made the playoffs and won a playoff game. Coming off of an NFC championship game appearance in 2006, the Saints started 2007 at 0-4 and never fully recovered, finishing 7-9, despite winning seven of their final 12 games.
The Saints have never been bad under Payton with Drew Brees. They are certainly not bad this year but their defense was historically bad Sunday against a Tampa Bay team with a backup quarterback who has started for seven NFL teams.
The Saints are favored to win over an improved Cleveland team this week. The Browns gained some confidence by playing Pittsburgh tough and probably should have the game yesterday. They will not be an easy team to beat.
Surely, Marshon Lattimore suddenly did not become a poor corner and Cam Jordan a poor pass rusher. You know they will rebound and play well. The question surrounds the remainder of the defense and how they will grow and perform the rest of the way.
You had to feel that if the defense could get one stop Sunday, Brees would have gotten the ball back, the Saints would have scored and made a two-point conversion, something they are very good at, and forced overtime.
Suddenly, images of the 2017 win over Washington came to mind when the Saints stole a 34-31 win in overtime under similar circumstances.
Brees was tremendous. So were Michael Thomas, despite a costly fumble, and Alvin Kamara. It was good to see Ben Watson catching passes again. The Saints had never scored 40 points in a game and lost. There is always a first time.
It was only one game and Tampa Bay has good skill players. Give them credit. They were extremely well prepared and Ryan Fitzpatrick had the game of his career. The Saints can rebound but it must start now. You cannot lose two home games, as favorites, to start the season, particularly with games against the likes of Philadelphia, the Rams, Minnesota, Atlanta (twice), Carolina (twice) and Pittsburgh looming. You still have to go to Tampa Bay, as well.
For the Saints to be a contender for the Super Bowl, for the Saints to even be relevant, they must win Sunday against Cleveland. For those that surmise that the team started 0-2 last year and rebounded, think again, That 0-2 came against Minnesota (on the road) and New England. The Vikings reached the NFC championship game and the Patriots reached the Super Bowl. No one would confuse the Bucs and Browns with those teams.
I must admit that I am confused by the Saints team we witnessed yesterday, as compared to the team I thought they would be this season. It is time to break the systemic streak of multiple losses to start the season.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE Owner and CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Football Foundation, College…