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Barry Hirstius

The Saints Are Back — And They’re LEGIT Contenders to Take Over the NFL

3 consecutive wins by double-digit points. 3 touchdowns scored by an opportunistic defense that is the youngest in the NFL. And a veteran QB and a head coach that have won a Super Bowl. Don't look now, but here come the New Orleans Saints. After a prolonged absence, they are back — and now they're LEGIT contenders to take over the NFL.

Now of course, the 2017 NFL season is only 6 weeks old. And this 2017 Saints team has only played 5 games in those first 6 weeks, that included losing the first two of them by double-digit points.

But something happened on the way to their funeral, as the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Era was be about to laid to eternal rest by the League's other 32 teams: their much-maligned defense of the past 3 seasons and 4 out of the last 5, suddenly started to "click".

In the 3 games since getting embarrassed by a score of 36-20 at home by the New England Patriots back on September 17th, the Saints have completely turned their season around.

And without question, it's because their young defense has finally began learning how to play together as a cohesive unit; as a handful of rookies and 2nd year players have quickly figured out how to "gel" alongside a select group of veteran players — and do the things that are necessary to succeed in the National Football League.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hinton, The New Orleans Advocate

Yesterday, their 5 takeaways (3 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries) equaled the most in the Payton-Brees Era. Additionally, the 3 touchdowns scored in the same game was the 1st time that ever happened, in the team's entire 51 year history.

It was yet another phenomenal performance by a Saints defense that also had a whopping 16 passes defensed and 5 sacks, to go along with those 3 touchdowns and 5 takeaways.

It's the same defense that shut-out the Miami Dolphins in their previous game, and beat the current NFC South Division-leading Carolina Panthers in their own stadium, in the game prior to that one.

Talk about being "on fire".

No defense in the NFL is playing better football right now, than this young Saints defense has and still is.

"We're just playing football," rookie Marshon Lattimore — who had his first-ever "Pick 6" as a pro on a 27-yard interception return off of Lions QB Matthew Stafford — said to reporters in the team's locker room afterwards. 

"That's really what it is. We knew we had to turn it up to another level."

Added linebacker A.J. Klein: "We're doing our part. And we have the potential to get so much better. We are a young defense that is maturing fast and that's great to see. But we can't become complacent."

With a trip to Green Bay, Wisconsin up next to face a wounded Packers team that appears to have possibly lost their All-Pro QB Aaron Rodgers for the season, there shouldn't be any "let up" or complacency to worry about.

This young Saints team is a team that is quickly on the rise; and if they can keep their wits about them and remain focused, they could do great things as the back-up to a 15-year veteran QB who is one of the greatest players ever at his position, and a head coach who has tasted the success of a Super Bowl championship almost 8 years ago.

"There are still so many ways that we can get better, offensively, defensively, and in the kicking game to just be more complementary with one another," quarterback Drew Brees said in the team's post-game press conference.

With the addition of rookie RB Alvin Kamara, the Saints offense has gotten a major face-lift this season; and the trade of unhappy veteran free-agent RB Adrian Peterson to the Arizona Cardinals last week now eliminates a potential distraction.

Yesterday, with Peterson out of the picture, the Saints rushed for 189 yards total, 114 of it for Mark Ingram — who now gets to go back to being the team's primary "power" RB; while Kamara (who rushed for 75 yards and caught 4 passes for 12 yards) plays the "Joker" position as the team's all-purpose RB (or the "scat back" as it's also known as) with both running and receiving duties out of the backfield.

Peterson's departure now allows them to be more focused on the task at hand: which is making sure that they play their "style" of football, and put up enough points on the scoreboard as their young defense continues to improve each week.

If they are able to do THAT on a consistent basis, week in and out???

WATCH OUT, NFL.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hinton, The New Orleans Advocate

Grant it, a lot of things can change between now and then.

As the Saints know all too well from last season and as the Packers found out yesterday: injuries can potentially RUIN a team's entire regular season.

This week with the exception of starting CB Delvin Breaux (who's nearly completely healed now from a broken fibula suffered originally at the beginning of last season) and rookie linebacker Alex Anzalone (who's on injured reserve), the Saints were nearly at "full strength" roster-wise, at any other point that they have been this year.

If the Saints are able to maintain any semblance of health for the next 11 remaining games, while their offense finds their rhythm and their defense continues to learn the lessons of playing at the professional level with each passing week; then this football team could become something truly special further down the line in the next few months.

And that would mean that the New Orleans Saints franchise, after the last 3 years worth of misery and misfortune, is finally back — and are once again contenders to take over the NFL as they once did, not all that long ago...............

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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