TAMPA, Fla. — Jonathan Casillas stood in the locker room in the depths of Raymond James Stadium on Sunday afternoon and quietly slipped on his white sport coat with cheetah print lining.
Few of his New Orleans Saints teammates remained in the area, their 35-28 victory over the Bucs just a memory.
But he had one thought.
“(Finishing) 12-4 doesn’t sound likely but we’re all in for it,” Casillas said. “I’m all in for it.”
After Sunday’s wild finish, it’s hard to blame them.
It’s not that the Saints are back. Far from it.
They are, however, still in the picture and what this team is beginning to prove is that as long as there’s a chance, there’s going to be fight.
Forget the 513 yards the Saints defense gave up on defense and instead, look at the 1-for-3 stat from the red zone. Look at the defense holding Tampa Bay to 4 of 12 on third downs. And look at the final score.
“There’s always a chance,” right guard Jahri Evans said. “We know what we have in this locker room. We believe in each other. We’ll be fine.”
Sunday provides the exact template the Saints need to win the rest of the season.
The defense came up with five straight stops in the middle of the game. The offense scored on four straight possessions to end the first half. The special teams didn’t give up a big return.
“You’re probably right,” safety Roman Harper said to a reporter. “You can quote me on that. We did good. We got stops when we needed to and we fought hard in the red zone today.”
There’s no better example that the Saints haven’t given up than the five-play sequence in which Malcolm Jenkins chased down Vincent Jackson at the Saints’ 1 yard-line and the ensuing four plays in which the defense stopped the Bucs from inside the 2.
“That was the play of the game for us defensively,” linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “Malcolm didn’t give up on the play. Chased him down and gave us a fighting chance.”
“We talk about winning the fight of each play and Malcolm running (Jackson) down, obviously, and getting that goal-line stand was a huge turnaround in that game as far as just not allowing them to get that score,” interim head coach Aaron Kromer said. “It really boosted our confidence and gave our defense the confidence they needed.”
At the clip that Drew Brees is playing right now, all the Saints need is the defense to come up with a couple of stops per game.
He finished with 377 yards and four touchdowns on 27 completions. Time and again, he found receivers open for third down conversion – eight to be exact, six of which went to Lance Moore for 88 yards.
In the past four games, Brees has compiled 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions and thrown for 1,433 yards.
“We’ve seen Drew, as the receivers got healthy in the last four games, really up his game,” Kromer said.
They don’t care whether they’re underdogs or not. They believe in themselves.
“Our record would make everybody think to go against us and we understand that,” Harper said. “It’s all about you got to challenge your manhood about what people say when you’re down and you’ve got to come out and continue to fight and challenge teams.”
That gets us back to Casillas and his 12-4 belief.
Whether you believe it’ll happen or not doesn’t matter. Not to this group. Not at this moment.
“It don’t sound too likely but I’m pretty sure everybody in the locker room has bought into it,” he said.
And that’s all the Saints can ask for.