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If Saints Repeat Their Week #3 Performance From Last Year, Falcons Are in BIG Trouble

You'll have to give fans of the New Orleans Saints a bit of a break at the moment considering that they're likely experiencing a bit of déjà vu, which is the term used to describe a feeling of having already experienced the present situation that you're in at this moment.

For Saints fans, that's because the start to this season is eerily similar in many regards to how the team began their season last year — when New Orleans began the season at (0-2) thanks to some poor play in which the Saints defense came out of the gate and yielded some ungodly numbers.

So far this season, the Saints are (1-1); but much like last year have been essentially outplayed in convincing fashion at times in both of their first 2 games: their 48-40 loss to Tampa Bay in the Season Opener 2 weeks ago, and then once again in their narrow victory over Cleveland this past Sunday.

And as a result: many fans this morning are concerned about this year's Saints team as they prepare to visit the hated arch-rival (1-1) Atlanta Falcons this Sunday afternoon at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

But if you're reading this as a Saints fan right now, let's go ahead and revisit history real quick; because if the Saints show up this Sunday on the road and play like they did in a similar situation in their Week #3 road game last year?

Then the Falcons are in BIG trouble.

As you might recall: nearly everyone following or covering the NFL last year, had thought that the Saints 2017 season was already over by that point; as the franchise began receiving condolences from many people throughout the entire Pro Football world, on the apparent premature and unexpected death of their 2017 NFL Regular Season after only 2 weeks.

But of course, we all know what happened next.

The Saints then proceeded to go on an 8-game winning streak, won the NFC South Division Championship, and just barely missed out on making it to the NFC Championship Game.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

And as a direct result from those accomplishments, the Saints came into this current 2018 NFL season as a popular choice among some experts and analysts that cover the League every day, as a definite Super Bowl contender for Super Bowl LIII (53) in early February.

Undoubtedly, the Saints have began this season in a similarly disappointing fashion; and their two performances against the Buccaners and Browns were and are a cause for legitimate concern, and you’d be a complete fool to simply “blow it off” as no big deal.

The Saints have looked nothing like the team that we saw at the end of last season.

However, the assumption among some Saints fans this morning that the team has regressed or is returning back to their losing ways during those previous (7-9) seasons from 2014 through 2016, are just off-base at this point.

(John Kuntz, cleveland.com)

Remember: it was a year ago at this time when the Saints were (0-2) and appeared to be headed for a complete disaster of a season.

That's because the Saints had gotten off to yet another winless start for a 4th straight September, which in and of itself wouldn't have been considered such a big deal, had the Saints not been essentially completely embarrassed by the opposition — the Minnesota Vikings and the New England Patriots — in such an unthinkable fashion.

New Orleans was clearly and unequivocally beaten in both games, and specifically on the defensive side of the football; which allegedly had been the team's biggest improvement in the 2017 off-season and had been one of the highlights of their 2017 NFL Pre-Season — and had given both them and their uber-passionate fan-base a reason for great optimism heading into the start of the regular season.

But instead, the Saints defense came out of the gate and yielded some ungodly numbers (777 passing yards and 1,025 yards of total offense); which were so bad in fact that they were on the level of some of the unit's worst performances that had previously led them to finish among the League's worst for 4 of the past 5 NFL seasons.

Photo courtesy of Brian Peterson, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

And with a road trip to Charlotte, North Carolina to play the NFC South division rival and undefeated Carolina Panthers in their own stadium up next on the docket, things were looking pretty bleak for the rest of the year for the boys in the Black and Gold.

But — something funny happened on the way to what was supposed to be yet another September loss for the Saints: they actually decided to show up and played some of their best football of the past year, with a "lights-out" and at times dominant performance, in an impressive 34-13 win at Bank of America Stadium.

It was a win that began that 8-game winning streak for New Orleans; until it was snapped out in Los Angeles by the Rams in late last November.

"That's what we've been trying to do these last two games, but we brought it together here," said Michael Thomas, the team's 2nd year wide receiver who led the team's offense with 7 catches for 87 yards and a 1st quarter TD that set the early tone for the Saints for the remainder of the contest.

"There was more of a sense of urgency. We were hungry. We attacked them. We didn't let them attack us. We played complementary football. We made huge plays on defense and a lot of huge plays on offense."

"That's Saints football. Those are the moments that we've been waiting for."

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

The Saints offense and the man ultimately responsible for its overall performance in head coach Sean Payton, finally were able to establish some consistency after being held at bay the previous 2 weeks by the Vikings and Patriots,

The Saints then utilized an at times-brilliant mix of the passing and running game that kept the Panthers defense guessing for a better part of the afternoon.

Saints QB Drew Brees turned in one of his typical performances that fans have grown accustomed to seeing (22 out of 29 for 220 yards and 3 TD's, with a passer rating of 131.4); while the 3-headed rushing attack of Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson, and rookie Alvin Kamara led the way on the ground with 149 total rushing yards on 27 carries.

But despite the nice day turned in by the Saints offense, NOTHING was more impressive than what fans were witness to by the much-maligned New Orleans defense -- which for the most part "shut down" Carolina QB and former League MVP Cam Newton for a majority of the contest.

Photo courtesy of Michael DeMocker, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

"It's a confidence thing," defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins told reporters in the locker room after the game.

"We were able to do some good things early on. That got everyone else fired up. We were able to get pressure, force Cam into some bad decisions and create turnovers. We were able to give our offense multiple chances to go down the field and score."

"We know Cam is a guy who wants to get into a rhythm. Keeping pressure in his face and making him have to throw the ball before he wanted to or throw to guys he didn't to, that was big. We were able to hold up."

Indeed they did.

The Saints defense certainly held up their end of the bargain, as defensive coordinator Dennis Allen's opportunistic unit forced 3 turnovers and sacked Newton 4 different times  which caused him to finish with one of the worst games of his entire NFL career with a 17 of 28 performance for 167 yards with three interceptions and a 43.8 passer rating.

Photo courtesy of The Charlotte Observer

The Saints secondary in particular had a magnificent performance; as CB P.J. Williams and rookie safety Marcus Williams got their first career interceptions each, with Williams' pick "icing" the victory for New Orleans late in the 4th quarter.

The Saints defensive line was equally impressive themselves, and the 4 sacks that they registered came in between some harrowing moments early on in the contest where the New Orleans Front 7 allowed some big chunks of yardage to the Panthers running game and then-rookie sensation Christian McCaffrey in the short passing game out of the backfield (McCaffrey had 9 receptions for 101 yards).

Otherwise, as a whole the Saints defense essentially stymied the entire Panthers offense for a majority of the afternoon.

That was Week #3 of last year; and now this coming Sunday in what is another Week #3 road game against an NFC South Divisional opponent for New Orleans for a 2nd straight year, the Saints once again find themselves in a very similar situation to the events of last year's equally disappointing start.

Photo courtesy of AJC.com

That Week #3 performance by the Saints last year was good for the players, it was good for the organization, and it was certainly good for the fans, who before that game were praying for the best, but admittedly preparing for the worst-case scenario — a scenario that had the Saints franchise returning to the "Dark Ages" of the team's sordid past, that had once upon a time made them one of the League's very worst franchises for the first 20 years of their now 52-year history.

Instead, Saints fans were rewarded with a win that reestablished their hopes for a successful 2017 season; while boosting the confidence of a young team who collectively on that particular day earned a hard-fought victory despite missing three of their top four cornerbacks, their #2 wide receiver and both starting offensive tackles.

If the Saints can overcome their early-season adversity by winning another Week #3 contest on the road and performing well as a team overall against a division opponent in a manner similarly to what they did last year, it could bode well for the team moving forward as their upcoming schedule eases up just a bit; with a game next week against the (0-2) Giants in New York, before an early Bye Week the following Sunday (October 1st).

But of course, talking about it and then going out and actually getting it done, are two entirely different things.

Nevertheless, after escaping with a "W" against Cleveland this past Sunday, the Saints 2018 Regular Season remains alive and well — and with an entire 14 games still yet to be played, nobody should pass any judgements on them because of how they've looked in the first 2 weeks.

The NFL is often funny like that, in that a team can look like total "crap" one week, and then suddenly look like "kings of the mountain" the very next week following that previous one.

Whether or not the Saints can play at the same level this year in a Week #3 divisional road game as they did last year however, very well could ultimately play a large role in determining their fate.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

However, if any one thing can be said, it's that with 14 weeks worth of football still left to be played, it means that a whole lot of things can still happen.

And as long as the Saints can show up in Atlanta this week and play well in a Week #3 divisional road game and play like they did at Carolina last year?

Then you likely can bet that when the Saints get to downtown Atlanta this Sunday, the Falcons are going to be in BIG trouble.......

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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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