In any of the New Orleans Saints’ seasons of recent memory, a 41-point beatdown put on any team wouldn’t be a huge story. But the 2012 season hasn’t been normal by any stretch of the imagination.
Bountygate, coaches’ suspensions, player suspensions, player exonerations, court battles and wire-tapping accusations have been just a few of the off-field issues this team has dealt with since March.
An 0-4 start to the season and a three-game skid in recent weeks have pretty much squashed any hope of a successful season in New Orleans.
But Sunday’s 41-0 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should show just how talented this Saints team is. It should also give the fanbase some hope that 2013 will be infinitely better.
It starts with quarterback Drew Brees.
Brees threw for 307 yards and four touchdowns Sunday, and drew high praise from interim head coach Joe Vitt in Vitt’s postgame press conference.
“How many times have we seen it? How many times have we been a part of it," said Vitt. "One of the things as a coaching staff, or one of the things as a teammate, is you see the brilliance of Drew Brees, his leadership, his production, his character.
Everybody kinds of leaves that ship every once in a while; you’re making a mistake. He’s truly remarkable. The only thing that overshadows his character is his ability to play this game.”
There is still a ton of talent on this roster, much more so than their current 6-8 record reveals.
Running back Mark Ingram ran for 90 yards on 14 carries and scored a touchdown. The receiving corps featured four receivers—Jimmy Graham, Joseph Morgan, Marques Colston and Lance Moore—who averaged more than 10 yards per catch and gained more than 40 yards on Sunday.
The defense—Steve Spagnuolo’s much-maligned defense—sacked Josh Freeman twice, forced a fumble and picked off the Tampa Bay passer four times.
It took some time, but this Saints team looks like…well, a Saints team we’ve come to expect over the years. And that’s good news for the future.
Brees spoke after the game about a renewed focus for the remaining three games of the season. It started Sunday, and if the final two games resemble Sunday’s 41-point win, this team won’t enter the 2013 season with expectations of anything short of the playoffs.
“Even though maybe that Super Bowl trophy can’t be ours this year, we still have a lot to play for," said Brees at his postgame press conference. "We have a very prideful group of guys, but also we have guys that understand the big picture, and that is that we’re going to be here for a long time. We can start building the foundation of something now that will carry over for years to come."
The Saints still have work to do, and a head coach to negotiate a contract with, but Sunday’s win was a huge first step in getting this franchise back on track.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained first-hand.