NEWORLEANS-- The Saints' trek to the promised land of the Super Bowl has often been detoured by the Atlanta Falcons onto the boulevard of broken dreams.

Hail Mary's and Big Ben's have so often trumped the prayers of Saints' fans in the waning moments, whispering 'Our Father's' under their breath.

But these are not your father's Saints.

Your father's Saints would have found among the debris of last night plenty of ways to lose. Coughing up three fumbles -- one for a touchdown. Giving up an interception. Fumbling twice in the fourth quarter when ball security was even more important than ball advancement. Failing to recover an on-sides kick. Giving Atlanta one more chance to break their hearts with an improbable last second comeback.

Your father would have expected the Saints to lose under those circumstances. His children now expect the Saints to win, as they did late last night.

At the final gun eyes were closing in the east about the time the polls were opening on the first Tuesday of November. In New Orleans a day-long party was getting its second wind and the eyes of Saints fans were wide-open, staring in appreciation at a 7-0 start and a three-game lead in the NFC South over the Falcons.

Seven straight wins in which the smallest margin of victory was last night's eight-point defeat of the Falcons. For the first of three games this season the nation got a chance to see for itself what we have through the first six games of the season. And while some might have left unimpressed by the way it was accomplished, most had to be impressed that it was.

The most analytical of all such eyes are those watching in Las Vegas who must set aside passion and view dispassionately a team's performance.

This Sunday the Carolina Panthers come to the Superdome. The Carolina Panthers last Sunday beat an Arizona Cardinal team in Arizona that nearly won the most recent Super Bowl. Beat them by 13 points, 34 - 21. The Carolina Panthers have beaten the Saints seven straight games that the Saints have been the home team - 6 in the Superdome. Once in Baton Rouge.

Despite that history, Las Vegas makes the Saints two touchdown favorites this Sunday.

Not since 2001 have the Saints beaten the Panthers in the Superdome.

Some young Saints fans newly welcomed into the Who Dat Nation have never seen the Saints beat the Panthers in New Orleans.

But then again, these are not your father's Saints.

Nor theirs.

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