With the 2018 version of the New Orleans Saints football team poised to mirror their magical run from 9 years ago when they won their one and only previous Super Bowl title after the 2009 season, the organization might want to consider repeating another similar occurrence from that famous season: “Bringing the Wood” for their first playoff game at the Superdome — when they host a NFC Divisional Playoff game a week from this Sunday.
As many Saints fans will recall: ‘Bringing the Wood” was a method of motivation used by Saints head coach Sean Payton; who right before the Saints’ 45-14 NFC Divisional Playoff victory over the Arizona Cardinals, presented each player with a black baseball bat that included these words emblazoned on the barrel to inspire physical play:
“Saints vs. Cardinals. Jan. 16, 2010.”
“Bring The Wood!”
At that time, Saints 4th year RB Reggie Bush was so pumped up thanks to Payton’s inspirational tactic , that he hoisted the bat in his right fist as he ran onto the field before kickoff at the Superdome, getting himself and a sold-out crowd completely whipped up in a state of overwhelming emotion.
Bush EXPLODED for 5 carries for 84 yards and TD on offense, and added an 83-yard punt return for a score late in the third quarter. as the Saints hammered Arizona to advance to the NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings the following week (the Saints of course won that game and Super Bowl XLIV against the Indianapolis Colts two weeks later).
To this very day, some still consider the performance to be the former 2005 Heisman Trophy winner and now-retired (Bush is now an analyst for the NFL Network) NFL star’s best of his entire 11-year NFL career.
Now fast forward 9 years to the present day, and perhaps this year’s Saints team could use some motivation for their NFC Divisional Playoff match-up against an opponent still to be determined, against either the Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks, or the defending Super Bowl champion from last season: the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Saints won’t know which of those three teams they’ll actually face until the completion of the Wild Card game between the Eagles and the Chicago Bears on Sunday evening, but one thing they actually do know well in advance: they’ll need to play A LOT better overall as a team than they did in their 33-14 season-ending loss at home to the Carolina Panthers last week.
In particular, it’s the Saints defensive line that probably could use some motivation, after they failed to generate pressure on undrafted rookie Panthers QB Kyle Allen; who in his first-ever NFL career start finished the game 16 of 27 for 228 yards with three total touchdowns and a 111.3 passer rating.
As noted by NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune beat writer Josh Katzenstein: the Saints defense might have been “sleep-walking” in a game with no playoff implications, but it was still hard to understand how an inexperienced quarterback could beat New Orleans so thoroughly.
One reason for certain: the Saints defensive line — which has been one of the biggest strengths of the team this year — only managed ONE sack against Carolina’s less-than-stellar offensive line. This is the same Saints defense that finished tied for 3rd overall in the entire NFL this season in total sacks, with (49) of them.
While it’s true that the Saints played a handful of back-up players in the 2nd half, the starters still played the entire first half and some played the whole game; making the performance all the more worrisome as the team heads into the Post-Season.
Katzenstein notes that the Panthers rookie QB led Carolina to 24 points on its first four possessions, and the 33 points that the Saints allowed last Sunday were the most they’ve given up since the Rams scored 35 against them in Week #10.
Additionally, Katzenstein says that the 23 first-half points were the second most that the Saints have allowed all season, behind only the godawful Week #1 performance when the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers had 34 points at the half.
The defensive line in particular struggled as they only managed to notch just one sack, which came not long after Carolina 3rd string QB Garrett Gilbert replaced Allen (shoulder injury) in the fourth quarter.
And as current Saints 4th year defensive tackle Tyeler Davison told Katzenstein, it’s something that the Saints D-Line themselves know that they need to get corrected, and QUICKLY with the NFC Divisional Playoffs rapidly approaching.
“It was one of those days that we’re going to have to go back and look at the film and really ask ourselves, be honest with ourselves, why we didn’t come out firing on all cylinders like we should’ve?” Davison said.
Davison wasn’t the only Saints defensive lineman that understands the importance of getting the defense and the pass rush in particular, back on track.
“There are things there that are very fixable, things that can be corrected,” defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins told Katzenstein. “You get excited about that because you know you’ve got a week to work just worrying about yourself, get back to the basics, get back to fundamentals, technique, the things that got us to these 13 wins. We’ll grind it out this week and we’ll go from there.”
If the Saints seriously have their sights set on making it all the way to Atlanta and Super Bowl LIII (53), then they already know that it’s something that they absolutely must do better with against whichever one of those three Playoff teams that ends up making the trip to the Superdome for next week’s game.
“(The) number #1-seed guarantees you nothing, except you host a playoff game,” Rankins said. “For us it’s business as usual. It’s football. The only difference is it’s obviously a sudden death tournament.
“We’ll go out there and play as hard as we played every game and attack each team the way we’ve attacked each team. We’ll rest knowing that if we go out there and execute the way we know we can execute, we’ll have a chance to win every game.”
Hopefully for Saints fans, Rankins’ words turn out to be prophetic.