EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — For three years, the Saints generally could do no wrong.
The situation was never too big or dire for New Orleans’ professional football franchise.
Thirteen games into this season, it’s safe to say the Saints aren’t that team anymore
The aura of invincibility is gone, swept away with everything that has happened in the past nine months.
On Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, one message was hammered home with every long Giants kickoff return and with every New Orleans turnover – the Saints just aren’t good enough anymore.
It’s not the media saying this. It’s the players themselves after a 52-27 loss to New York.
“To be perfectly honest, we’re just not good enough this year to overcome a lot of the mistakes, whether it be a kickoff return, a long touchdown run, an interception return,” Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. “Whatever it is, for whatever reason, this season we’re just not good enough to overcome those mistakes.”
The week of the San Francisco game, there was defiance in the locker room, an acknowledgment that while the team lost, there was still hope.
After the Atlanta loss, there appeared to be depression and anger, an acknowledgment that the season was all but done.
Sunday, after the loss, there were some smiles and some laughter, an acknowledgment that, well, that acknowledgment doesn’t need to be explained.
It appears the burial of this 2012 season will be here sooner than the Saints had hoped.
Interim Saints coach Joe Vitt said after the game the product put on the field by his team was an embarrassment and for that, he put the blame on himself.
It’s true. He should take on part of the responsibility for the precipitous fall of one of the NFL’s winningest franchises the previous three years. He doesn’t appear to have the control or placed the fear within the players that a certain suspended coach had or did.
For all his biting comebacks and his salty, prickly attitude that he puts on for the cameras during interviews, he either doesn’t do that with his players or they’ve just tuned him out.
This is where the Saints miss Sean Payton the most, when his value is seen plain as day.
When New Orleans lost to Washington in the season opener and it was written that he was missed, it was premature.
Same with when it was written two weeks later following the loss to Kansas City.
But it’s no longer premature. The past three weeks have shown just how important he is to this club.
His attention to detail was what made New Orleans what it was the past half decade.
Under Payton’s tutelage, the Saints have been one of the least penalized teams and they’ve taken care of the ball.
This year, though, they’ve been penalized more through 13 games than in any of the past three seasons and they’ve turned the ball over more than they have in the same stretch.
In the past three games, they’ve had 19 penalties and 11 turnovers. That won’t win ballgames.
Yet, while they’re missing Payton’s influence, there should be enough leadership to make a difference. Eleven starters and 21 members of the roster were on the 2009 Super Bowl team.
“We have to make sure we are not influenced by outside perceptions because obviously right now everybody thinks the ship is sinking,” cornerback Jabari Greer said. “But we still believe in one another and we’re still going to fight together no matter what.”
That sounds all good and warm and fuzzy but the past three weeks have shown that the outside perception is right.
The ship is sinking.
That is, if the ship hasn’t already been sunk.
The only thing the Saints can do now is give fans hope and look towards the future.
There’s only 137 days until the NFL Draft.