Six wins in a row. The #2 seed in the NFC Playoffs, if the season ended today. Leaders of the NFC South Division for the past 3 weeks. Those are just some of the accolades that the New Orleans Saints have managed to achieve in the past 7 weeks, since beginning their 2017 regular season with two embarrassing and very forgettable losses.
With the exception of the Philadelphia Eagles and most likely the Los Angeles Rams, there's no other team that's any "hotter" than the Saints are right now.
But yet for all of their accomplishments that they've managed to put together thus far as they now have reached the halfway mark of their regular season schedule, there's still something that they have yet to achieve that they are hoping to do as soon as possible:
Play the "perfect game", and be outstanding in all 3 phases (offense, defense, special teams) of one collective team performance, for an entire 60 minutes.
It's something that has eluded them, up to this point.
Yesterday after the Saints' at times-dominant 30-10 win over the visiting NFC South Division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Saints starting QB Drew Brees was asked during his post-game press conference if he felt that the team had played its most complementary football of the season thus far:
“I think so. By no means was it perfect out there. I felt like we had some opportunities for more points and we had the turnovers where we could have gotten at least three points. We missed a field goal. I had a chance to hit Ted (Ginn Jr.) for a big play that would have lit things up in the first quarter."
"(But) we are striving for that perfect game or a game where it all comes together."
Brees is a perfectionist anyway, so it's not surprising to anyone that he thinks that.
And whether every single one of his teammates agree with his assessment or not; there's no question that as an entire team, they strive to give the best and most complete effort that they can possibly give, each and every week.
Yesterday, the Saints appeared to hit mostly on all cylinders offensively (30 points, which could have been 34 had it not been for some kicking issues) and defensively (only 10 points and 200 total yards allowed); but it was the special teams that left much to be desired.
Despite the blocked punt for a TD by special teams "ace" Justin Hardee after Tampa Bay's first possession early in the 1st quarter, the Saints special teams yesterday were actually anything BUT special.
Kicker Wil Lutz had anther extra point blocked, and then injured himself (but he later returned) along with missing a 43-yard field-goal attempt in the 4th quarter.
Then there was Ted Ginn Jr., who once again looked great at wide receiver but continues to struggle on special teams. First, Ginn threw an ill-advised sideways lateral that one-hopped across the field to Tommylee Lewis on a trick play attempt during a kickoff return, but Lewis went nowhere.
Ginn muffed a punt early in the 1st half, which was the whole reason why the Saints decided to allow 3rd year WR Willie Snead to return a punt early in the 4th quarter, but he muffed the return and gave up a fumble that eventually led to Tampa's only TD for the entire afternoon.
The special team woes were a prime example of what Brees was alluding to, and the fact that the Saints for as good as they have been during their now 6-game winning streak, still haven't had a game where they've managed to successfully have a "Grade A" performance across the board.
But here's something comforting for Saints fans everywhere throughout the Who Dat Nation to think about this morning, which is:
If the Saints aren't "perfect", then they're pretty damn close to it.
No one should make the mistake of taking this Saints team lightly.
Sure, they have "fatal flaws" (like a suspect run defense and an underachieving veteran at the tight end position, for example), but so does every NFL team at this point.
Even the mighty (8-1) Philadelphia Eagles — the only team in the NFL with a winning streak longer than the Saints (7 in a row) — aren't completely without flaws.
Coming into yesterday's games, the Eagles O-Line ranked in the bottom half of the League in run blocking and pass protection, per Football Outsiders. And their secondary had allowed 256.8 passing yards per game, the 7th-most league-wide.
Which means as good as Philly has been, they still haven't been exactly "perfect"; though one could easily argue that they're as close to it as anyone, which is why most observers and analysts consider them the front-runners in the NFC at the moment.
Much in that same regard, the Saints aren't all that different than the Eagles.
The main difference is that they've taken separate and uniquely divergent paths, to get where they're currently at respectively.
For New Orleans, their primary focus now will turn towards trying to maintain their high level of play for the 2nd half of the season; while simultaneously trying to secure the NFC South division title in the few upcoming weeks.
However, as Brees cautioned in that same post-game press conference, he and the Saints at this point remain committed to simply just giving their absolute best effort week in and week out, regardless of who they're playing.
“Division wins are great. Obviously those are very important. But I think each week we try to look at it as a faceless opponent. We’re still striving to play our best game and I don’t think we have achieved that yet."
"We are continuing to make strides in that direction, but there are still a lot of things we can do better."
"The road only gets tougher. We go on the road to Buffalo this week. They are a very good football team that’s playing really well on both sides of the ball so we have our work cut out for us.”
Brees is correct in that Buffalo will give the Saints all that they can handle next week, as the two teams will face off at one of the toughest venues for all visiting NFL teams to play at: New Era Field, formerly known as Rich Stadium.
The (5-3) Bills have been one of the surprise teams in the NFL this season, despite their most recent loss this past Thursday Night in which they were beaten soundly by the New York Jets, losing 34-21.
That loss to the Jets means that the Saints will likely be facing an angry Bills team that'll be looking to get "back on track" in that contest.
Even worse for New Orleans: the weather forecasts so far for next Sunday indicate that the temperature will be in the mid-30's, with a chance of wind and rain.
Which means conditions won't be ideal next week, and so if there were ever a time for the Saints to play the "perfect game"?
Then on the road in the harsh environment that Buffalo will provide, is as good a place as any to start.
For now, the Saints can take a moment to exhale; and take solace in the fact that their 6-game winning streak is as impressive an accomplishment, than any other in the entire League at the moment.
Let's face it: just 7 short weeks ago (that includes their Bye Week that they had after their 4th game of the season against Miami in London, England), NOBODY was giving this team a chance to be where they find themselves at this morning.
A 6-game winning streak?
Leading the NFC South?
The #2 Playoff seed overall in the Conference???
ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME???
What a time to be alive, for Saints fans of all ages.
But there is still much work to be done, so let's not celebrate anything just yet.
But do allow yourself to take comfort in one simple truth about this football team at the moment: