TAMPA, Fla. — To win in the NFL, sometimes you have to dream the impossible.
You have to believe in things that don’t really make sense.
Or, as New Orleans safety Roman Harper says, the less you know, the harder it is to imagine.
Sunday, against the Buccaneers, the Saints found themselves in an impossible situation that they never would have imagined.
They believed in what didn’t make sense and found a way against almost all odds to find a way to win, leaving Tampa with an improbable 16-14 win.
Now those new to the roster know – the Saints are never truly out of a game and there’s video to prove it.
“Just got to be able to show guys that, hey, we’re never out of it and actually now we’ve got it on tape – confirmed validity and it’s going to be hard for them not to believe,” Harper said.
Fact is, few on this team have been around long enough to know and understand this point without having gone through it.
Only 12 players remain from the 2009 team that understood what it took to win. As Pierre Thomas walked from his locker to a sink to brush his teeth before flying home, he reminded a reporter that Sunday felt a little like the Miami and Washington games that season.
New Orleans trailed in both of those games, facing long odds just to get back in them. And yet they did in 2009 and did again Sunday.
“Always in it,” Thomas said. “As long as we keep believing, keep having that hope and faith, good things are going to happen for us. We just don’t give up.”
In a way, Thomas is right. Sunday did feel like a game from a few years back. But while Thomas knew the feeling, few others on the roster do. There are 25 players in their first or second season with the Saints.
They know not what coach Sean Payton, Drew Brees and the handful of long-time veterans have worked hard to build and how it was built.
Sunday certainly wasn’t perfect. Brees threw two interceptions that led directly – Mason Foster’s 85-yard return for a touchdown on one of them – or indirectly to Tampa Bay’s only points of the day.
The running game once again was anemic, churning out a paltry 75 yards on 20 carries. It was so bad, in fact, that three plays from inside the 3-yard line netted the Saints no points and a turnover on downs.
New Orleans was 0-for-4 in red zone efficiency, failing to score a touchdown on four drives inside the Bucs’ 20.
And yet, when the Bucs’ cards were laid on the table, New Orleans didn’t fold.
The defense forced a long field goal when it had to, young outside linebacker/defensive end Junior Galette staying home, reading his keys and forcing running back Doug Martin back inside where rookie nose tackle John Jenkins tackled him.
That forced a long field goal by Rian Lindell instead of allowing Tampa Bay to run out the clock.
Then Brees coolly guided the Saints 54 yards in five plays in just 1 minute, 6 seconds, allowing for Garrett Hartley to chip in a 27-yard field goal for the winning points.
“You learn a lot about your team,” right tackle Zach Strief said. “There was plenty of adversity. Obviously we didn’t play real well. There were situations there where we shot ourselves in the foot. Mental errors and things we can’t do. And yet, you see guys on the sideline staying in it.”
So, yes. New Orleans undoubtedly has a lot to correct. But Sunday was about more than corrections.
It was about confidence.
It was about believing that the impossible is possible, that what doesn’t make sense will come together and be understandable in the end.
It was about not having to imagine anymore, knowing from experience that anything can happen.
“I think wins like this are vital,” Brees said. “No matter what you’ve done in the past, you’ve got to kind of prove it to yourself that this team can overcome those types of odds (and) circumstances on the road, in the division. Our team got better today.
“There’s still a lot we have to work on, there’s still a lot we have to improve upon, but when you can find a way to win with everything that happened today, especially there at the end, that’s just significant.”