New Orleans Saints were so good Sunday, it made them feel even worse about 2012 season
Are you kidding me? Now we see the best that the New Orleans Saints have to offer - one week after they lost any realistic shot at making the playoffs?
The Saints' 41-0 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was an uplifting message about pride and a cruel joke at the same time.
The second-biggest shutout victory in franchise history - and the team's first since 1995 - was as complete of a performance as the Saints have produced.
It reminded everyone of just how good the Saints (6-8) can be.
And of how much potential they wasted during this maddeningly inconsistent season.
"I said on the sideline, you know, 'It's unbelievable,'" tight end Jimmy Graham said. "I mean, obviously it's a great win. But it's sad to see the fact that we couldn't do this earlier. It's tough to see the potential you have as a team, but you find it this late."
The best thing about Sunday's win was that it proved the Saints have some serious pride still bursting inside - unlike the Buccaneers (6-8), who had nothing left Sunday after their own playoff hopes were crushed last week.
And if the Saints can finish strong over the next two weeks at Dallas and home against Carolina, it will offer some hope and momentum heading into their "do-over" 2013 season.
But that motto of "Wait 'til next year" is something this franchise had moved beyond in recent years.
"Walking off the field, I was like, 'Man, this is how it should feel. We should've done this the entire season," linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "It's so frustrating, because to come out here and play the way we did today, its like, 'Why couldn't we come play like that all season?'
"I don't have the answers but only thing you can worry about is those next two games and getting better."
The defense's performance was particularly uplifting, because it was an incredible symbol of how far they had come after their historically bad start to this season.
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The offense? We've always known that they're capable of spectacular efforts like this: 307 passing yards, 149 rushing yards, five touchdowns (four from quarterback Drew Brees) and no turnovers.
But as interim coach Joe Vitt said of the defense: "If anybody in this room ever envisioned a shutout after the first couple of games this year, you couldn't have predicted that."
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was awarded the game ball after his unit held Tampa Bay scoreless and forced five turnovers (two interceptions by cornerback Jabari Greer, one by safety Rafael Bush, one by safety Isa Abdul-Quddus and a fumble forced and recovered by end Cameron Jordan).
"It's certainly a tribute to Steve Spagnuolo and his staff and players, the way they've stuck together," Vitt said. "That's staying the course with the right players and the right coaches and the right attitude and the right teaching and the proper accountability."
And that's something that can indeed carry over into 2013. The Saints still will have plenty of changes in store - starting with the uncertainty of whether Sean Payton will return as head coach. But Spagnuolo likely will return, as will a number of core defensive players like Lofton, Jordan and Greer, among others.
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"We've definitely come a long way. We've really progressed as a defense," Lofton said, though he admitted last week's 52-27 loss to the New York Giants was a "setback."
"It's a little bit of everything," Lofton continued, "from guys understanding the system, the coaches detailing it more, and just going out and having fun and not thinking so much and letting your God-given ability take over."
Even on offense, guard Jahri Evans insisted that the Saints can take the positives from these final games and carry them forward.
"Our goal is to win every game that we play, and two of these (last three) games are division opponents," Evans said. "So you keep hitting those guys, and those guys will remember it the next time we face them next season. That's our goal is to play hard, play tough and finish the season with wins."
Vitt spent an extra-long time in the locker room speaking to his players behind closed doors after the game and appeared to be emotional while talking about his pride in the team's effort afterward - though he said he was just hoarse from yelling all day.
Center Brian de la Puente said the win was emotional because the locker room is filled with "high-character guys" who have won a lot of games and "don't know how to lose."
So even if Sunday's win doesn't ultimately lead to a playoff berth, and even if it doesn't offer any guarantee of success beyond this year, it was worth something to the guys involved.
As de la Puente put it, "Better late than never."
Re: New Orleans Saints were so good Sunday, it made them feel even worse about 2012 season
OK, just do it again in Dallas.
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