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It was about this time last year with the 2009 season one-quarter over and the Saints off to a 4-0 start that the first signs bearing a single word started appearing in the Superdome. 'Destiny' they read and they proved to be prescient.

One quarter of the way through this season the Saints are just a single, winnable defeat worse. And yet I haven't seen any such signs this year.

'Destiny's Darlings?' This year they might have been delayed in Atlanta. And who doesn't know 'Dat' feeling? How else to explain the Falcons winning last week here on a missed 29-yard gimme in overtime and yesterday when a wide receiver strips a defensive back of the ball as he runs with a game-clinching interception?

Remind you of anyone a year ago? Shawn Suisham maybe? Robert Meachem maybe?

For Saints fans the rallying cry prior to 2010 might have been 'wait till last year this year.'

And yet every year is different and while the temptation to project the results of the first quarter of it through its entirety is irresistible, it's usually foolhardy to do so.

But if you look at the first quarter last year compared to the first quarter of this season, there is one glaring contrast and it's the absence of one player.

While everyone is concerned with the Saints' paucity of scoring in the 3-1 start, we should recognize how one player and one unit contributed so emphatically to last year's 4-0 start.

He doesn't play offense. His unit doesn't play offense.

But Darren Sharper and the Saints defense of a year ago were doing more than just giving Drew Brees short fields on which to score points. They were doing so themselves.

After four games last year Darren Sharper had five interceptions including touchdown returns of 97 and 99 yards. The defense had 10 interceptions after four games.

This year through four games the defense has three interceptions, none of which has been returned for a touchdown.

Sharper's replacement Malcolm Jenkins has no interceptions and I can't recall him even being close to recording one.

That's not to place the blame solely on Jenkins who's a rookie at the position and going to be a fine player in time.

But right now he's no Darren Sharper and this defense is not last year's defense through four games.

In all likelihood this year's Darren Sharper wouldn't be last year's Darren Sharper after four games either. Nor should we expect this year's defense to be last year's defense through four games.

It's only to say that neither is. The contrast is glaring.

The contrast between 4-0 and 3-1 in the standings is not, however.

And that's the only one that truly matters.

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