As Louis Armstrong began belting out the sweet sounds of “When the Saints Go Marching In” on his brass trumpet for the first time back in the 1930s, he wasn’t paying tribute to a football team — especially seeing as the franchise wasn’t even established until 1967. And in the first few weeks of the 2012, there was little question about which direction the football Saints would be marching this season.
But there have been some big moves in the Big Easy of late, and the once eulogized Saints are now on the cusp of contention yet again.
After an 0-4 start to the season, the Saints looked more primed for a trip to the dumpster than the playoffs. The Bountygate scandal had cost them more than just some key coaches and players. The Saints had lost their way.
Now, just seven weeks later and a little more than halfway through this same 2012 season, the Saints are the Saints once more. Riding a three-game winning streak and going 5-1 over their last six games, the Saints have not only returned to the .500 threshold, but they’ve also reclaimed a spot in the NFC playoff race.
Under the guidance of interim head coach Joe Vitt, who was suspended for the first six games, the Saints have rediscovered their swagger.
Drew Brees appears to have rekindled the efficient passing attack that’s made New Orleans’ offense so dangerous. Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and Mark Ingram have revived a flat-lining rushing attack in recent weeks. And the defense, which looked like the worst in the league to start the year, has finally started making plays and holding down opponents — at least enough for the offense to pull out wins.
Their resiliency has been nothing short of impressive. New Orleans has crept back from the edge of destruction and is once again in the thick of the playoff race they were expected to be a part of all along.
If the Saints can earn a postseason berth — and we don’t want to be premature as there’s plenty of season left — they would be just the second team in NFL history to begin a season 0-4 and reach the playoffs that season. The only other team to do so were the 1992 San Diego Chargers, who finished the season 11-5 and won the AFC West.
With the Atlanta Falcons still rolling along, sitting comfortably atop the NFC South at 9-1. The Saints likely won’t have the opportunity to claim their division title. But a Wild Card berth is still very much a possibility, even in what’s developed into a treacherous NFC this season.
With Seattle, Minnesota and division-rival Tampa Bay all resting at 6-4, and Dallas still in the mix at 5-5, there’s plenty of competition for that sixth and final playoff spot. The Saints have dates with two of those teams, the Buccaneers and Cowboys, left on their schedule. Then again, that schedule could be the Saints’ biggest challenge in locking up a place in the postseason.
New Orleans’ next three opponents will be as tough as any they’ve faced all season, as they welcome the San Francisco 49ers to the Superdome, then travel to Atlanta and then New York for a showdown with the Giants. Even if they come out of those games with a 2-1 record, they then host Tampa and travel to Dallas before taking on a Carolina team, that’s already beaten them once this year, in the season finale.
Fortunately for the Saints, Brees is used to the pressure of expectations and Vitt appears to be carving out a niche as a true leader of this team.
The road ahead may be daunting, but New Orleans has the weapons and willpower to overcome the challenges that lie ahead. And if the past few weeks have been any indication, these Saints will rise to the occasion and the playoffs will all but surely be in their future.