Well, Saints fans, I was wrong and I've got to come clean yet again. After handily defeating the New England Patriots a few weeks ago, I thought the Saints had answered any and all questions remaining about their "talent, moxie, depth and drive." I still can't believe how good they looked against the greatest franchise of the decade. The Saints play - I'm talking about their defense here- these last two weeks following that impressive victory, however, has got me raising my eyebrows...again.
Initially, I was going to write this post last week after the Miracle in Maryland but I didn't want to go the negative route. Not with everyone feeling so great; not this season. We should all be soaking in this moment and no matter what, the Saints are still unbeaten. Then another squeaker in Atlanta this past Sunday and it's beginning to become evident that the Saints defense, from an on-field performance standpoint, is just not playing at the same high level we saw earlier in the year and that we know they are capable of achieving. Damnit, I just can't keep it bottled up anymore!
Why does it matter, right? The past is past, the Saints are still perfect and real fans don't think like that. It matters because more than I want to see the Saints do something they've never done before - put together a perfect season - I want to see them do something else they've never been able to accomplish: Win an NFC Championship game or more. That's how real fans think. This isn't about winning and losing during the regular season, it's about playing the best football a team can play when it counts the most. If the Saints continue to play mediocre defense, leading them to barely beat equally mediocre teams like Washington and Atlanta and relying too much on good fortune, how am I supposed to believe they have a chance against the cream of the crop in the playoffs?
While driving in my car last night I was listening to Deke and Bobby on WWL's Sports Talk. I believe Hebert was mumbling about another team when he used the old football truism, Teams want to peak in December as they head into the playoffs. I agree with that. Naturally I had to think about whether or not this applied to the Saints right now and I didn't like the answer I'd come to. While the Saints have certainly reached the zenith of the standings and their own franchise's success, that is not how I would describe the defenses on-field performance as of late. In fact, looking back on the entire season so far, I'd say they were playing their best football somewhere between week two and week five. They had a swagger back then, when they would beat teams into the ground and not just pray on the bench for a kicker to miss a crucial field goal. You remember it. That swagger is faint now.
If any of this sounds familiar it's because I felt the same way in November when the lowly Rams gave the Saints a run for their money and I questioned how they could possibly get it together for a juggernaut the likes of the Patriots. Fortunately, I was proven wrong when the Saints used the New England game to show the entire country that they were for real. They brought back the swagger. Unfortunately, their dominance in that game was a mere blip on the radar. We've seen evidence of last years defense since then and it has cracked open the door for concern yet again about what's most important to any good football team in December: Going deep into the playoffs. Because if there's any truth to the other old adage, Defense wins championships, then the Saints are in for trouble as it stands today.
Of course I care very much about seeing the Saints get a win against the Cowboys and continuing their journey toward perfection. That would be sweet. But what's even more important this weekend is seeing them play with a defense chock full of swagger, proving they can turn it on when they need and that they will be ready to make that all-important playoff run. Even if they somehow lose. Soon, they won't have that luxury.