METAIRIE, La. — When the Saints slowly trudged back into their locker room at Lambeau Field on Sept. 28, their record said they were 0-4, having tasted yet another defeat in an agonizingly long six-month stretch.
Yet, six weeks later, New Orleans may well be on its way to doing something few on the outside felt it would ever be able to do.
After a hard-fought 31-27 win over previously undefeated Atlanta on Sunday, there’s now the possibility of reaching .500 with a victory at Oakland this weekend.
And that’s all anyone wearing the gold helmet could have asked for, cornerback Jabari Greer said.
“Obviously we started 0-4,” he said. “So, to be able to climb ourselves out of this hole is something I know we’re excited about. I know we’re grateful to have this opportunity.”
New Orleans (4-5) is in this position because the defense has found a way to stiffen in the red-zone and in goal-to-go situations as much as the offense having found its running game recently.
In three of the past four games, the Saints have stoned teams in situations where the percentages were stacked against them.
Against Tampa Bay, they stopped four plays from inside their 2-yard line and four others from inside the 9. New Orleans won by seven points.
Two weeks later, the Saints stopped Philadelphia on five trips inside the red zone, forcing two field goals and allowing just one positive play in 17 tries inside the 20. The Saints won by 15 points.
And on Sunday, the Saints had more stops, keeping the Falcons out of the end zone on twice in five drives inside the 10-yard line. But none were arguably bigger than the three tries Atlanta had inside the 2. The Saints won by four points.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said they’re not doing any special or different in those situations.
“It goes to the players in my opinion,” he said. “There’s no secrets down there. There’s a couple of things we mix in and do, but our guys are gritty on the goal line.”
Meanwhile, the Saints have run for 288 yards the past two weeks. That’s more than 36 percent of their season total. Reserve running back Chris Ivory gained 72 yards on seven carries, including an electric 56-yard touchdown run against Atlanta.
In the past two games, the Saints have had near perfect balance on offense, passing the ball just nine more times in 116 plays.
But as much as the defense coming up big in the red zone has helped and as much as the run attack has blossomed, the one factor that plays into both is that the players never lost hope.
“This team has rolled their sleeves up, have weathered the storm, have stuck together, have not pointed fingers and tried to get better every day,” acting Saints head coach Joe Vitt said.
Said Greer, “We started in such a hole that now that we’re coming out of it and starting to dig our way out of it, we’re starting to see some light. When we were 0-4, everything was doomsday. Nobody believed that we had what it took to become a good team. Everybody had written us off.”
And now the Saints have momentum heading into Oakland, a team that’s reeling after losing by a combined 45 points the past two weeks. New Orleans has won four of its past five games and only 10 other teams have done that.
“We play a momentum game,” Greer said. “If you have it, you become a better team. Anytime that we can have the confidence to finish out games, have three-and-outs and sustain and finish drives, just to put those together we know we’re becoming a better team, it makes us more of a team to watch out for.”