After the New Orleans Saints' disappointing performance over a week ago that saw them play very poorly in a loss at home to the Arizona Cardinals, one could hardly blame Saints fans for wondering out loud on a variety of different Socal Media platforms if the team was truly capable of matching last year's memorable season.
But after the team's 36-7 rout of the Los Angeles Chargers last night, that point of view has changed rather quickly.
Not long after starting QB and future Hall of Famer Drew Brees was intercepted to end the offense's first drive and the starting defense spent much of its first two drives getting GASHED by the Chargers running game, Saints fans were probably in near-panic mode after the 1st quarter had ended.
However, Brees eventually was able to find his rhythm and completed 7 of 9 passes for 54 yards in his only expected game action of the entire 2018 Pre-Season; while the Saints defense tightened up on the Chargers offense and essentially "shut them out" after Chargers long-time veteran quarterback Philip Rivers left the game.
But it was 3rd string QB Taysom Hill that got the entire team pumped up in the 2nd half, thanks to a direct snap on a fake punt that saw him gain 5-yards on fourth-and-3. The conversion eventually helped set up the Saints’ first touchdown of the game by 2nd year RB Alvin Kamara.
Then on the ensuing kickoff, Hill was on the kick coverage team and nailed Chargers CB Desmond King at the Chargers’ 17-yard line with a hard-hitting but fundamentally sound tackle after a 19-yard return.
But it was when he took over the reigns of the offense early on in the 3rd quarter, that Hill made things happen with his elite capabilities as a runner that have drawn comparisons to past NFL QB’s with similar attributes.
Hill, who leads the Saints in rushing this Pre-Season with 130 yards on 16 carries, scored the Saints’ 2nd rushing TD of the night when he sprinted around the left end for an 11-yard score.
The play occurred on a 3rd-down-and-6 situation in which Hill rolled out to his left but saw nothing — and then quickly took off for the pylon at the left-hand front corner of the end zone.
On the very next play, Hill kept a read option and punched it in for a 2-point conversion as New Orleans took a commanding 22-7 lead. The Saints dominated the Chargers from that point on, outscoring them with another 14 unanswered points after that.
And as a direct result: left absolutely no stone unturned while reminding everyone in the entire National Football League last night, just why they remain SERIOUS Super Bowl contenders this upcoming season as well.
There isn't any doubt it: this Saints team returns with a loaded roster this year that makes them a prime Super Bowl contender and a more-than-legitimate threat to make it all the way to the Big Game next February, where Super Bowl LIII will be played at the still somewhat-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta.
With a whole ton of talent on both sides of the ball thanks to back-to-back "homerun" draft classes in 2016 and 2017 that have allowed New Orleans to become a Top 5 contender very quickly after 3 consecutive (7-9) losing seasons from 2014 through 2016.; the Saints will now be coming into this 2018 season with high hopes, after narrowly just missing out at making it to the NFC Championship Game last year.
They're well aware of the opportunity to have a very special season in 2018, a sentiment echoed recently by Brees just prior to the Pre-Season.
(Reporter's question:) Are you guys more excited to come in after how last season ended?
Brees: "Yes, listen you're always excited but I think we feel like we've got the makings of what could be. And so now this is the hey you're starting back at square one and you just got to build this thing and you don't start where you left off."
"Yes, we feel like we've got the pieces in place — but we also understand this is a game of inches and you have got to set the tone now for a successful season. You have to build the foundation now."
"You have got to develop good habits now and so we understand there’s still so much work ahead of us and there's a sense of urgency each and every day to improve and get better and just to stay ahead.”
After last night's performance, it's probably safe to say they've accomplished that task; despite the rough start last night and the disappointing performance from the week before.
The Saints will end their 2018 NFL Pre-Season schedule at 7 p.m. this coming Thursday Night, Aug. 30th against the Los Angeles Rams at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.