The New Orleans Saints will be hoping to avoid repeating history today when they face their bitter and much-despised hated arch-rivals, the Atlanta Falcons; in just a few short hours from now at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta, Georgia.
The history that Saints are hoping to avoid?
Starting off in an (0-2) hole within the NFC South Division with a loss at Atlanta, which has only happened 1 other single time in the team's history since it moved from the NFC West Division to the NFC South Division beginning with the 2002 NFL season.
While the Saints obviously have started off with two straight division losses to begin a season countless times in their 52-year team history, it's only happened twice since that 2002 move to the NFC South: the 2004 season and again in 2007.
But it was only during that 2004 season specifically which was the only other time that the Saints found themselves in the exact same scenario that they face again today: going into Atlanta — after having already lost at home to Tampa to start off at (0-1) in the division — while seeking to avoid losing another divisional game and an (0-2) start in the NFC South, a fate which usually proves too difficult for the division's other teams (and most NFL teams for that matter) to overcome.
As some Saints may recall: the circumstances back then were somewhat different in that the 2004 Saints team wasn't considered a "Super Bowl contender" like this current 2018 team is, but nevertheless were trying to avoid another loss and falling into an even deeper hole within the NFC South, knowing that it could end their hopes of winning a division title prematurely.
The biggest difference was that the Saints that year didn't even play their 2nd NFC South game on the 2004 schedule at Atlanta until November 28th, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Thanks to a "quirk" in that year's schedule: the Saints played their first NFC South Divisional game at home against Tampa Bay on October 10th (a 20-17 loss); but then didn't play their other remaining 5 NFC South divisional games until the last 6 games of the season.
By the time that the Saints traveled to Atlanta to finally resume NFC South Divisional play, the Falcons were on the brink of just their 3rd division championship ever in their franchise history, and came into the game with a record of (8-2). The Saints on the other hand, were having a disappointing season and came into the contest at only (4-6).
New Orleans fell behind 14-0 early in the 2nd quarter and were down 17-6 at the half before then-starting Saints QB Aaron Brooks rallied the Black and Gold. He scored on a 1-yard sneak and then threw a pass to WR Joe Horn for a 2-point conversion, pulling the Saints within 17-14.
It was then that Atlanta's starting QB Michael Vick made a huge blunder. Trying to set up a screen, he threw the ball right into the waiting hands of Saints defensive tackle Charles Grant. The 290-pounder then proceeded to rumble 8 yards to the Atlanta 30 yard line.
The Saints then passed up the opportunity to kick a "chip-shot" field goal that could have tied the game, going for it on fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 9. Brooks plunged headfirst into the line, making the first down by about the length of the football.
Then, on third-and-goal from the 7, Brooks found Horn alone in the middle of the end zone, rifling a low pass that the receiver caught on his knees with 11:56 remaining. It gave the Saints their first and only lead of the entire ballgame — and it was the first time all season that year that Atlanta had given up a lead in the 4th quarter.
The teams then traded punts back and forth, until Saints linebacker James Allen appeared to secure the win for the Black and Gold when he stripped the ball from Falcons RB Warrick Dunn at the New Orleans 6 with 3:11 to go. But the Saints went three-and-out, and Atlanta took over at the New Orleans 47.
Vick had nearly 2 minutes to work with, but he needed only two plays to get the Falcons into the end zone.
Falcons TE Algee Crumpler got things started with a 27-yard catch, and then ON THE VERY NEXT PLAY, Vick looked to his left, cut to the right to avoid the rush, then darted back to the left to get away from more pressure.
A Saints defender laying on the ground took a swipe at Vick's legs as he went by, but the Vick managed to scramble away and then rifled the pass to Crumpler, who he found open at the pylon battling with Saints CB Jason Craft. Crumpler boxed out the defender like a basketball player going for a rebound, and easily made the catch when Craft fell down.
Final score: Atlanta 24, Saints 21.
"Their defense just fell apart," said Vick to reporters after the game, in which he had a hand in all three Atlanta touchdowns, passing for two scores and running for another.
Now in fairness, the Saints didn't look much better than a high school team at times that year; as it was the true beginning of what would become the sad end to the Jim Haslett Era in New Orleans.
Today's game on the other hand, isn't nearly as a gloomy scenario for New Orleans.
While it will be a key early season game for New Orleans, who won this same NFC South Division as champions last season, they still have an entire 14 games left remaining to be played yet, so there isn't any need to panic — at least not yet anyway.
But the Saints coaching staff does need to be concerned about things that have reared their ugly heads in the first 2 games to begin the 2018 season, without question.
Things such as a lack of execution on offense, particularly with the Saints receivers having lost two more fumbles against Cleveland that now seems to have become a disturbing early-season trend of committing turnovers for head coach Sean Payton and company to quickly get fixed.
This of course came on the heels of the previous week's defensive effort against Tampa in which the Saints gave up 529 yards and six plays of 30 or more yards.
So there's been plenty of "blame" to go around on both sides of the football so far for New Orleans; who must now quickly put the events of the first 2 weeks of the season behind them and get ready for another typical battle in a few short hours from now, in the heated rivalry against those hated and despised Dirty Birds.
While the Saints find themselves sitting at (1-1) this morning, it's rather evident that they are clearly very fortunate at the moment not to be (0-2) in the most unimaginable way you would have ever thought possible.
No one would have thought that the Saints would play the way that they have thus far in the first 2 weeks; especially against two teams that most consider to be inferior to a Saints team that was only 10 seconds away from advancing to the NFC Championship Game last year had it not been for a miraculous ending pulled off by the Vikings.
Nevertheless: the Saints still showed some big-time resiliency by gutting it out and coming away with the "W" against Cleveland, even as the role-reversal "switch" from playing poorly on defense last week was flipped over to playing poorly on offense.
That resiliency was something that was present for much of the season last year, and it was very encouraging to see it emerge once again last week when it mattered the most.
And with Tampa Bay QB Ryan Fitzpatrick's brilliant performance yesterday (another 400-yard passing day and 4 more TD passes for a 2nd straight week) against the defending World Champion Philadelphia Eagles in which he lit up their top-notch defense also, the "stink" that was still lingering from that Season Opening 48-40 loss to the now (2-0) Buccaneers doesn't seem to smell quite nearly as bad as it did originally.
Bottom line: the Saints "got away with one" last week— but let's also remember that in this current era of the NFL nowadays, there really isn't such a thing as an 'easy' victory any more, so they'll take it any way that that they can get it.