NEW ORLEANS -- They unfurled a Super Bowl championship banner in the Superdome on Thursday night. But did the New Orleans Saints roll out a Super Bowl team?
Well, it sure didn't look like it on first glance, but that might be a bit misleading when you give it a second and third look.
Carve it up however you want, because aside from one impressive opening drive, this wasn’t last year’s formula of Drew Brees throwing darts all day or Gregg Williams’ opportunistic defense scoring points or helping create them or the special teams pulling off miracle plays.
This wasn’t pretty and it sure wasn’t perfect. But this was a win and that really is all that matters. The Saints defeated the Minnesota Vikings 14-9 in an NFC Championship Game rematch that looked absolutely nothing like January’s NFC Championship Game, a 31-28 Saints win.
This wasn’t a thrilling shootout between Brees and Brett Favre. Fourteen points would have been a good quarter for Brees most of last season. It simply was good enough this time around.
“At the end of the day, our objective is to win ball games,’’ offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb said. “We’ll watch the tape and I’m sure we’ll make a ton of corrections. But to go out against a great opponent like the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1 and come away with a win, I think that’s a great night.’’
A great night that will always be remembered because the Saints hung a championship banner from the rafters, hosted a parade before the game and rolled out a giant replica of the Lombardi Trophy on a parade float on the field. Schools let kids out early, fans who weren’t even going to the game clustered near the Superdome for hours before the game and it was a night for the ages in New Orleans.
The Saints celebrated their Super Bowl XLIV victory one last time, and now it’s time to focus on Super Bowl XLV. Believe it or not, at 1-0 and in first place in the NFC South, the Saints still have a shot. Correct?
All those who are ready to write off the Saints because they weren’t anywhere near dominant against the Vikings are missing the point by half a mile. Winning may be new in these parts and that’s led to a sudden expectation that the Saints should be perfect every time they play.
Guess what? It simply doesn’t work that way.
“People want us to be perfect all the time and we want to be perfect all the time,’’ cornerback Tracy Porter said. “But this is real life. You can’t be perfect every week. But when you go out there and weather the storm like we did and come away with a win, that’s only going to make you stronger. It’s Week 1 and nobody’s going to be perfect in Week 1. You get better as the season goes on and you win championships by playing your best football in December and January.’’
September is the time to grow and it’s fair to say the Saints of Thursday night were not playing at the same level they were the last time they saw the Vikings or when they defeated the Colts in the Super Bowl. It’s probably also fair to say that no NFL team is going to come out this weekend and play better than the Saints were at the end of last season. They were pretty much flawless back in those days -- or were they? Heck, Favre put up a ton of yards on the Saints in the NFC Championship Game and it took some big plays on special teams for the Saints to get by the Colts.
Maybe what has gotten lost in all the celebration since February is that the Saints weren’t perfect all last season. They were just very good and they got better at the right time.
Yeah, Adrian Peterson made the run defense look bad at times Thursday and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe exposed some problems at outside linebacker, where the Saints still are trying to figure out what they’ve got after losing apparent starter Jonathan Casillas with a foot injury in the preseason finale.
Maybe this defense didn’t beat up Favre the way it did in the NFC Championship Game. But the bottom line is Favre completed 15 of 27 passes for 171 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Those aren’t the type of numbers that are going to shred a defense, and Favre may be one of the best quarterbacks the Saints see all year.
“Brett Favre is Brett Favre,’’ Porter said. “He’s a high-caliber quarterback and they’re a good team. But there’s been a lot of hype about this game for months because of Brett Favre and the whole NFC Championship rematch. There also was a lot of talk about how we really didn’t beat them the last time, that they more or less lost it and we just got lucky. Well, this time, I don’t think there’s any doubt that we won.’’
A very valid point and speaking of points, let’s remember that the Saints allowed only nine points to what’s supposed to be a good offense. Speaking a little more about points, let’s remember that the 14 points scored by the Saints is the fewest they’ve scored in a win since Sean Payton has been the coach.
Add it all up and it comes out to a win for the Saints. Same as last year at this time. The Saints started off with one win, ran the streak to 13 straight before coming down to earth a bit, then got their act together for the postseason.
Not all of last year’s wins were flawless and the fact the Saints didn’t just blow the Vikings out of the Superdome isn’t a sign that this team is suddenly crumbling. It’s a sign that the Saints are where they need to be.
“We just worry about the wins at the end,’’ Payton said. “It’s a good defense and credit them. I’ve been saying all week that this is a different game by two different teams. We can’t draw comparisons, although we’d like to, to that type of game a year ago. So, regardless of how you win them, we are at a spot right now where I think our players expect to win and that’s what is most important.’’
What’s most important from here on out is that the Saints stop looking back at the Super Bowl. They need to look back at what they didn’t do well Thursday night and start fixing it. If they can do that, they might have another Super Bowl to look forward to.