METAIRIE, La. — With about six minutes to go in Sunday’s demolition of Tampa Bay, New Orleans defensive lineman Cam Jordan realized something special was happening.
For the first time since his days roaming a high school playing field, he was about to be a part of a shutout.
He got excited.
“This hasn’t happened since high school when we’d get burritos for a goose egg,” Jordan said.
The Saints (6-8) did, indeed, pitch the shutout, their first since 1995 and first home blanking in 21 years to the day.
But there was one big problem. It seemingly came too little, too late for any real meaning. While the Saints are still mathematically alive, they face the longest of shots to get into the postseason.
“It’s sad that it’s a little late in the season for that to happen but you’d definitely like for it to click a little earlier,” said Jordan, who added a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery to the win. “But it’s still nice to see that everybody can come together for a complete game finally.”
Sunday’s big defensive performance, one that included five takeaways, seemingly had been brewing for awhile and though it came late in the season, those involved are happy it came.
Both the offense and defense played nearly flawless football against Tampa Bay, but it was the defense’s breakout performance that stood out.
Steve Spagnuolo’s defense is finally making sense to those playing in it.
“I think we’ve all said this as this year has progressed, that this defense has really gotten better every week,” interim Saints head coach Joe Vitt said. “I think it comes with product knowledge. As hard as they work, as good a teacher as Spags and our defensive staff are, as much pride as you have in these players, they’ve worked hand in hand to get better every single week.”
When the Saints were 0-4, the defense was bad. It was, and remains, the NFL’s worst-ranked defense, letting teams march up and down the field to the tune of 463.3 yards per game. It has allowed teams to score 20 more points than the offense had scored and was allowing close to 40 percent of third downs to be converted.
It got worse. By Week 9, the Saints were allowing 474.4 total yards and had allowed opponents to score 26 more points than the offense.
But from those depths after the Denver game came Sunday’s shutdown. And now the Saints have outscored opponents by 10 points – a 26-point turnaround – and the defense is allowing only 433.3 yards per game. Over the past seven games, the defense has allowed 391.9 yards per game.
Of course, the unit is still on pace to allow the most yards in NFL history. To keep from the dubious honor, they can allow no more than 696 yards combined to Dallas and Carolina.
Regardless, it’s easy to see the improvement and easy to see optimism for the future.
“When you get off to the rocky start that we did, it’s human nature, and I don’t blame the guys one bit, to have a little bit of doubt and not be sure,” Spagnuolo said. “But the way things that worked out in the season and because of the makeup of the guys in our particular locker room and meeting room, these guys have never given up and continue to fight.
“They have embraced it, even through some down times because certainly in this business, it is all about winning and I don’t think anyone here has thought that we won enough. After yesterday, I would hope there is a lot more comfort and confidence.”