NEW ORLEANS — For the past three weeks, the Saints have frustrated their fans with poor performances, ripping the Who Dat Nation’s hearts out after getting back to .500, ruining any chance of New Orleanians wagging their index fingers at the commissioner with their team in the playoffs.
Sunday’s performance likely frustrated them further.
The Saints’ 41-0 demolition of Tampa Bay, New Orleans’ most complete game of the season, came too little, too late.
New Orleans rewarded those in the less-than-fully-filled Mercedes-Benz Superdome with the franchise’s first pitched shutout in nearly 17 years. It gave those wearing black and gold four takeaways and no giveaways to go with four touchdown passes, the first time that has happened since 2001 according to profootballreference.com.
The Saints put together one of their most dominant defensive performance of the season.
And it likely gave many hope for the future, which according to my Twitter feed prior to Sunday’s game was not a good thing. Fans wondered before the game if the Saints should lose the final three games to set the team up with a better draft pick.
But that shows only that those hoping for that scenario don’t know this team very well.
New Orleans may not be great right now, but it’ll never give up and lay down, even if it’s in its best interest.
It’s not in their DNA.
“We can start building the foundation of something now that will carry over for years to come,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “We’ve got to a great core group of guys, a great group of young guys that continue to develop.”
“As long as there’s games to be played, there’s games to be won,” Saints right guard Jahri Evans said. “We’re not worried about draft picks or anything about that. We’re worried about the guys in this room that we have here now that’s going out and giving it their all.”
That argument also doesn’t fly with safety Roman Harper, who was incredulous at even the suggestion after the game.“You don’t play this game to lose it. Nobody does that. We’re all men and we get paid to win, not to get ready for next year. We don’t know who is going to be here and who is not. This is a business. That’s not a smart business decision.”
As a walk-off quote, Harper added a reminder that everyone – including fans – are happier after the Saints win.
Still, Sunday’s complete performance was step one in working towards a successful offseason and 2013.
It may be cliché – and even a bit absurd in this day and age of the NFL where players change teams as often as people change socks – but this team appears to fully believe in building momentum for the next season.
Players talked about the concept throughout the week and, with several young players stepping up in a pinch, showed that there might be something to it.
Safeties Isa Abdul-Quddus and Rafael Bush looked energetic and athletic, allowing Harper to play worry-free football closer to the ball in a hybrid linebacker-safety position, a place he could find himself in the future.
Tackle Will Robinson has played well since signing with the team, solidifying a position off the street while also possibly ensuring his football future.
Receiver Joe Morgan caught two more passes for 61 yards and a touchdown and is quickly becoming a player other teams have to pay attention to if he’s on the field.
“It’s the next man up mentality,” Bush said. “We’ve got to perform just as well as the starters. We don’t want it to be a drop-off. I think that was our main focus. We don’t want to let our teammates down.”
The Saints didn’t meet expectations this season, for themselves and for the fans.
That much is clear.
But there are two more games, two more opportunities to win and two more chances for those working for experience to seize it, something you can count on.
For those understandably frustrated about the way things have gone this year, that’s something to be proud of.