Forecast: I was wrong, 0-2 wasn't a death sentence

Being wrong has never felt so good.  After the New Orleans Saints got hammered by the New England Patriots to start 0-2 for the fourth straight season I didn’t hold back my disappointment with 2017, “The Saints present is terrible, the Saints future is worse than terrible, and we the fans are left with no answers and no hope.”

At the time I 100 percent believed it. It’s not as if the Saints under Sean Payton or any other coach in their 51 year history had rebounded from an 0-2 start to climb two games above .500 or ever managed a winning season after such a start. The Saints had shown nothing on defense to make most of us believe a turnaround was going to happen. Oh sure, I’m certain plenty of you are screaming at your computer, “I always believed!” Fine. Did you believe in all those other 0-2 Saints teams or just the 2017 version because this team was extra special? During that New England game the Saints defense had signs of hope like a morgue has signs of life.

It’s ok to be dumbfounded and not really have any words for what we are watching after the Saints went to Green Bay and beat the Packers 26-17 for their fourth straight win. From the moment Cam Jordan sacked Carolina quarterback Cam Newton on the Panthers opening drive in Week 3, the Saints are arguably the best team in the NFL. How the heck did this happen? The defense that was handing out offensive player of the week awards like Halloween candy the first two games has morphed into a unit that has allowed 13.5 points per game since.

The Saints even managed to win Sunday with Green Bay getting the game to go exactly how the Packers dreamed. The Packers got two quick Drew Brees interceptions, were able to run the ball early to take pressure off their quarterback making his first career start, and yet it still wasn’t enough to get a win.

I guarantee if you told Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy the Packers would have a five-play 75-yard drive to start the game that was entirely rushing yards and intercept Drew Brees on the Saints first two possessions, he’d have thought a victory was in the bag. I wouldn’t say the Saints looked flat; they just looked out of sorts. Brees made two awful throws early, Ted Ginn Jr. fumbled a punt, and the defense looked tentative on a wet field.

While the Saints offense was shooting itself in the foot after a horrible start, the defense didn’t allow Green Bay to get a first down following Brees’ interceptions and instead of facing a two or three score deficit, the Saints only trailed 7-0.  The Saints defense was bailing out Drew Brees for the second week in a row? 2017 is just weird y’all.

After shaking off the early turnovers the Saints cranked up the running game. Mark Ingram ran for 100 yards for the second straight week and combined with Alvin Kamara to get 161 yards on the ground. Brees got rolling and finished with 331 yards passing, and the Saints even started looking like their normal selves on third down, converting 8 of 15.

Ted Ginn Jr. had a huge game with seven grabs for 141 yards. Ginn is so much fun; the guy is 32, and still probably one of the fastest guys in the NFL.  Do you realize the Saints are paying Ginn and Alex Okafor a combined 6 million dollars for 2017? Pretty good free agent signings, no?

The Saints offense hasn’t really played a complete game except against Carolina because the offensive line hasn’t gotten settled, Willie Snead isn’t healthy, and Brees has been up and down the last three weeks. And yet, here they are 4-2. Are you ready for some real crazy talk? The Saints might start to be a team that relies on power running and defense to win games. Not every week, but that’s what they did in Green Bay.

The only real bad news for the Saints offense coming out of Sunday is guard Larry Warford strained an abdominal muscle, and if he’s out for an extended period, the Saints depth on the offensive line is completely gone and they are one more injury from having real issues.

Everyone keeps asking if the Saints defense is for real or if it’s a top 10 defense. Here’s the thing-- it doesn’t even matter. Drew Brees, as ESPN’s Bill Barnwell explained, doesn’t need a great defense. He doesn’t even need a good one. Brees just needs a defense that isn’t bottom six in the NFL and the 2017 Saints more than qualify.

The Saints are still going to have moments like the Packers opening drive where scoring drives look way too easy, but they aren’t going to get lit up like a Christmas tree by any quarterback collecting a paycheck.

The Saints held Brett Hundley to 87 yards passing and made him look exactly like a guy making his first start on a rainy field. I know it’s been years since we’ve seen actual competent defense, but that’s what it looks like. Average or good defenses eat up inexperienced quarterbacks, and while Hundley wasn’t awful, at no point did he do anything except avoid being awful.

The New Orleans Saints are in first place in the NFC South, the Astros beat the Yankees to go to the World Series, LSU thumped Ole Miss, and the Atlanta Falcons lost Sunday night. It was by far the best sports weekend of my entire life. So excuse me if I take a moment to savor this one.

There are still 10 weeks left, and if you don’t believe things can change in one play, just ask Packers fans, but if the Saints can get reasonable injury luck, 2017 is going to be better than any of us thought after a bad start. Can we make October last forever?

Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at Saintshappyhour@gmail.com, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.

 

 

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