Disclaimer: This article does not condone violence of any kind. Part One of the following piece is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Part One: The Bully
We have all seen high school bullies like Billy: bigger and stronger than their peers, they intimidate by their mere presence. They eat your lunch, take your girlfriend on a date and make you thank them for not slapping you across the face yet another time for looking at them the “wrong” way. Over time, they build such a strong reputation that the simple mention of their name sends shivers down the spine of any would-be challengers.
Enter Derek, the new kid who just moved to town from the inner city with his single mom. He’s peculiar that one: he doesn’t seem all that afraid of Billy; it seems he has seen bigger, meaner foes than that. So of course, fearful that his hegemony will be called in question, Billy throws down the gauntlet and challenges Derek to a fight in the courtyard while Mrs. Higgenbottom isn’t watching.
The fight is over before it began: in a stunning move, Derek spins around the lumbering Billy, trips him and in one fell swoop, pops him in the mouth with a thunderous left hook before he even touches the ground. The thud triggers an audible gasp among the kids in the yard. Mrs. Higgenbottom comes running, screaming wildly to all the kids to get back to their classrooms. But nobody moves: Derek looks down at Billy, a wry smile in his eye: this courtyard is his now. Dazed, Billy staggers up, a thick crimson stream running down his lower lip. He bleeds! He bleeds and everyone saw it, and now everyone knows he can. There won’t be any more free lunches or dates.
Part Two: And What Will You Have With Your Humble Pie, Sir?
If the little story above reminded you of last Thursday night in AT&T Stadium, it should. The New Orleans Saints (10-2) came into Dallas with the number one scoring offense in the NFL (37.2 ppg), a 10-game winning streak during which they crushed teams and made several quit. Even though they are likely to deny it, the Saints probably thought that handling the confident new kid from Dallas would not be a challenge for more than five minutes, just the time for the upstart Cowboys to expend all the energy they had mustered talking trash prior to the game. The Saints expected to score, and score, and score again, just like they had done every week for the previous 10 games.
It didn’t happen. The Cowboys punched, side-stepped and jabbed, punched again and smiled doing it. The Saints sputtered, stumbled, saw blood dripping down their chin as doubt crept in. Finally, while attempting a feeble riposte, they were knocked down and out, suffering their first loss since week one of the regular season.
Part Three: Contender...or Just Another Bully?
So here we are now, at a juncture where not only we, but also the Saints themselves are about to find out who they truly are. Will the sudden realization that they can be challenged make them cower and prove to be just another Billy? Or will they dust themselves off the canvas and show the football world that the setback in Dallas was just that: an accidental slip.
The last time New Orleans looked unbeatable and had won 10 or more consecutive games was 2009, their Super Bowl-winning year. That year, those same Dallas Cowboys ended New Orleans’ then 13-game winning streak with a 24-17 road-win in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The defeat in itself, though bitter, wasn’t all that alarming. Despite being 13-0 at the time, the Saints had sustained a slew of injuries prior to playing a potent Dallas team led by quarterback Tony Romo. One could almost say that the Saints were due for a loss.
What was more concerning is how New Orleans fared after the Dallas game nine years ago: ironically, their next opponent was the same team they’ll be facing this Sunday: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. On that December 27, 2009 at home in NOLA, the Saints came out of the gate like a team itching to prove that the loss to the Cowboys was nothing but a fluke: with 6:39 left in the second quarter, New Orleans led Tampa Bay 17-0, en route to another one of those Payton/Brees patented home routs. They didn’t score again. Tampa Bay rode running back Carnell Williams and scored the next 17 points to send the game into overtime. In the extra period, the Bucs would win the toss and drive from their own 23-yard line to the Saints’ 30-yard line, winning the game 20-17 on a Connor Barth 47-yard field goal (Note: this would be the last year in the NFL where a field goal would win a game on the first possession of overtime).
Was it a hangover from the Dallas’ loss the week prior? Was it overconfidence once they had jumped ahead 17-0? Whatever it was, the last time they had a long game winning streak snapped, the Saints could not get off the mat the following week. That lack of a response worried Sean Payton so much that in New Orleans’ first postseason game that year, the head coach put baseball bats in each of his players’ locker room, urging them to “bring the wood” against the Arizona Cardinals. New Orleans rediscovered its fighting spirit that day and the rest is history.
With a win over Tampa Bay on Sunday, New Orleans can be crowned NFC South champion for the second consecutive year, a feat never achieved by New Orleans. That honor would concomitantly earn the team a playoff berth and keep them in the race for the number one seed in the NFC, just a game behind the Los Angeles Rams (11-1) who play on Sunday night in Chicago (8-4).
Make no mistake, this is a huge game coming up on Sunday in Florida, and if Sean Payton has any more tricks under his sleeve to boost the confidence of his ego-wounded troops, now is the time to use it. On Sunday, the Saints will either jump back up and fight the Bucs to the bitter end, or stay down and further show the world that all it took was one mighty punch in the mouth to sap away their mental fortitude.
What performance would satisfy you from the Saints on Sunday in Tampa?
This poll is closed
A win! Because a win is a win!
As long as they show they can compete, I’m good!
A two-touchdown win or nothing!
No Taysom Hill plays please???
A 40-burger is always the answer, bro!