- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
There's no such thing as a must-win game in Week 4, except for when you're talking about the Saints' situation.
They're battered with injuries and a suspension (guard Jamar Nesbit) and they're 1-2. Before the season, you would have looked at this game and automatically penciled in a win for the Saints. Now, nothing is automatic.
But the Saints have to win this game. It's the first of three straight home games (Minnesota and Oakland follow San Francisco into the Superdome) and the Saints have to come out of that stretch with at least two wins or their season is over. After the home stand, they won't play in Louisiana again until Nov. 24.
They've got an upcoming stretch where they go to Carolina and London for a game with the Chargers. Things get a little easier after that with a bye and road trips to Atlanta and Kansas City. But that might not help if the Saints are buried in a hole.
Both teams are trying to establish identities and this game should make everything a lot more clear. Atlanta's two victories have come against the lowly Lions and Chiefs, but the Falcons have to win an NFC South game before they truly can contend in the NFC South.
In their wins, the Falcons have run the ball and taken the pressure off rookie quarterback Matt Ryan. In their lone loss, Ryan looked like a rookie quarterback because Tampa Bay took the running game away.
Think the Panthers might have seen the film of that game?
Carolina's defense has played well, but the offense hit a snag in Minnesota. Quarterback Jake Delhomme suddenly is taking a lot of criticism for being too emotional when he gets sacked or the offense is penalized. That's nothing new. Delhomme always has been emotional. The gestures just look different when the Panthers are playing smart football.
What will Jon Gruden come up with this week? Anything's possible. With top receiver Joey Galloway out last week, the Bucs threw a team-record 67 times against the Bears and, almost a decade too late, Brian Griese finally looked like John Elway.
But you can't ask Griese to do anything close to that every week. The Bucs need to be able to run the ball. They've got Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn, who each showed some flashes in the first two games. There's been a lot of talk about how this might be the best offensive line in franchise history (then again, think about the history of this franchise) and that may be true.
It's tremendous to throw the ball 67 times and not give up a sack -- even if most of the passes were thrown on short drops. But this offensive line needs to show it can block for the run before it can be considered anything special.