At long last, the New Orleans Saints are finally back in game action when they visit the defending AFC South Division Jaguars tonight at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. Kick-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. Eastern / 6 p.m. Central time, and will be televised locally in NOLA on WVUE FOX 8.
But as the team begins its quest for a Super Bowl following the heart-breaking finish from last season in the Divisional Round of the Playoffs, the NFL world is still "buzzing" over the comments made in a cuss-word filled Bleacher Report story posted Wednesday (Aug. 8); in which 2nd year RB Alvin Kamara told writer Master Tesfatsion that the Saints would have "beat the "(expletive)" out of the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC title game "cause we was rolling."
"If we won," Kamara said, "I knew nobody as gonna stop us because we came all the way back."
As most Saints fans might recall (begrudgingly): New Orleans rallied from 17-0 down against the Vikings and went ahead 24-23 when Wil Lutz made a field goal with 25 seconds left.
But the Vikings still managed to pull off a miraculous win with a 61-yard touchdown pass to WR Stefan Diggs that ended the game, a play that Kamara said was "one-in-a-million type (expletive)."
"We know what the standard is," Kamara said to Tesfatsion before pausing for a few seconds.
"So, yeah, f___ Minnesota."
(The Eagles would go on to CRUSH the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game and then they beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl).
Naturally as you'd expect, fans from not one but TWO other fan-bases took to Social Media, to blast Kamara for his points of view; as both Vikings and Eagles fans went insane on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
alvin kamara welcome to the shit list buddy
— Drew Corrigan (@Dcorrigan50) August 8, 2018
— Life Of A Vikes Fan (@SkolBros) August 8, 2018
Did Kamara unintentionally just give not one but two NFL teams "bulletin board material"?
The strong words from Kamara are DEFINITELY going to be brought up again when the Saints and Vikings have their long-anticipated rematch in Week #8 at Minnesota; and then once again when they play the Eagles three weeks later in Week #11 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
And those two teams both have outstanding defenses, as well.
However, it should be noted that in today's modern 2018 NFL, players aren't nearly as motivated to "hold a grudge" as they might have been decades ago.
Kamara's comments will create a lot more controversy between fans of the Saints and both Vikings and Eagles fan-bases, more so than it ever will get from either the Vikings or Eagles players themselves.
"Does it give you a little more juice? Sure," former Jacksonville Jaguars tackle Tony Boselli said in a recent interview. "But once the game's kicked off, you're playing football. It's not like you're going to play harder."
In that same interview, former Vikings center Matt Birk said: "It's the oldest motivational tactic in the book: 'This guy doesn't respect you, blah blah blah. He said this. Yeah, whatever".
"Unless someone were to come out and say, 'Hey, these guys are clowns. We're going to blow them out of the water, etcetera. Otherwise, when ever coaches try to play that card, for the most part people kind of roll their eyes."
But then Birk adds this interesting observation::
"It doesn't make you play any harder. But if there is a guy out there talking smack … it's like back when you're on the schoolyard and a guy's talking all sorts of junk and then he gets shown up".
"You've got to make a big deal of it to him, like, 'Hey, maybe you shouldn't have been mouthing off.'"
Former NFL head coach Bill Cowher has a similar take.
"Even though they're professional athletes and you shouldn't have to motivate them, they're still playing a kid's game, and when people say or do things you think are disrespectful, it takes any athlete, any competitor, to another level.
"You personalize it. If you can somehow make every game personal — and sometimes "bulletin-board material" can do that — it just heightens your focus and heightens your resolve."
As far as the Saints organization itself, no comment has been made as of yet about Kamara's controversial interview, though one would assume that it didn't exactly set well with head coach Sean Payton.
While Payton no doubt has to be happy about Kamara's self-confidence, he'll still likely be upset at the fact that Kamara PROVIDED "bulletin board material" to two opponents on this year's upcoming 2018 Regular Season schedule.
Circle your calendars for October 28th and November 18th, Saints fans. Because you WILL hear this topic brought up again, both of those times.
As for tonight's game, the 1st Pre-Season game doesn't normally see any of the Saints starters even play, and the majority of action tonight will be from 2nd and 3rd string players, many of whom are fighting for a job and an opportunity to stay on the Final 53-Man Roster.
The two things that I'm personally watching for tonight (and I recommend all Saints fans do the same) are:
#1) Can Taysom Hill REALLY be a starting-caliber NFL QB?
New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhill currently has Hill charted with a 31-for-71, 2 INT performance overall in 2 weeks worth of team drills in Training Camp, which isn't exactly all that impressive.
We'll see tonight just how comfortable Hill looks, when the competition gets a bit more heated from the Jaguars defense than what it's already been from his own defensive teammates in practice recently.
As Saints fans are well aware by now, starting #1 RB Mark Ingram will be suspended for the first 4 games of the upcoming season after testing positive for the use of a banned performance-enhancing drug in his off-season training regimen, and his role is expected to be filled for the most part by last year's 2017 NFL Rookie of the Year Kamara.
However, Kamara won't be expected to shoulder the load all by himself, and is expected to share RB duties with a handful of fellow young veteran back-ups that include Terrance West, Shane Vereen, Jonathan Williams, 2018 rookie draft pick Boston Scott, and 2nd year undrafted RB Trey Edmunds.
One thing you can be certain of: Boston Scott fits in with the Saints' long-term plans for the future, and he isn't going anywhere.
So basically it's a 4-way competition between West, Vereen, Jonathan Williams, and Edmunds to be "Ingram's replacement" for the next 4 weeks.
As of right now? I think that West is ahead of the pack — with the former Patriot Vereen "hot on his tail".
In any event, tonight finally marks the return of Saints Football for "Who Dats" all across the nation, and it can't be stressed enough how GOOD this team still is and will be again, in 2018.
In all of my years both following (since I was a kid growing up in suburban New Orleans in the early 1970's) and now covering the team as a sports writer, I can't EVER recall a time when expectations were this high for the franchise coming into one season.
Sure, we all wanted the Saints to "repeat" as Super Bowl champs when they opened the 2010 NFL season after their "Party with the Lombardi" back in 2009.
It goes without saying that 2010 season didn't quite live up to the expectations that Saints fans had been and were hoping for.
That year, the Saints went (11-5) and earned a Wild Card Playoff berth before being upset in the Playoffs at Seattle, in the infamous "Beast Quake" game where former Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch ran over the Saints defense in the game's final quarter.
But considering HOW last season ended (which makes Kamara's comments all the more acceptable to a degree) and the overwhelming amount of young talent that the organization has managed to assemble on one roster, the only thing on the franchise's mind (as well as the fans) is going all the way to Super Bowl LIII.
Ironically, that game on February 3rd, 2019 will be played of course right exactly where the Saints' hated arch-rival Falcons play: inside of their new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Saints fans are dreaming of a Super Bowl victory on their arch-rival's home turf, and based on the way that this team has looked thus far in the first 2 weeks of Camp, they might just get their wish.
The Saints quest to win another Super Bowl before Drew Brees retires (at some point), finally begins tonight.