I thought we might as well take a second look at my cover story running in this week's Gambit since the Saints decided to go ahead and lose to the Cowboys on Saturday and ruin their chances at a perfect season.
Though I had perceived that possibility of the Saints losing to Dallas as slight, it was a possibility nonetheless and one that I had to deal with Gambit going to press the day before the game. The trick was to eliminate all mention of a perfect season because, as my boss Kevin Allman put it, "If you jinx the Saints, I'm going to kill you." Well, I didn't jinx the Saints but I don't think they helped my article much either. Let's examine point by point.
- I start off by saying that the Saints "are one of if not the best teams in football." This still rings true. The Saints are one of the best teams in the NFL (second only to the still-undefeated Colts) and are definitely the best team in the NFC (thank you, Minnesota). So far, so good.
- I go on for a few paragraphs about how Saints fans have never had a team this good to root for when I drop this bomb: "the Saints stand at 13-0 with a self-destructing Dallas Cowboys team coming into town." Whoops.
- Thanks to their two turnovers against Dallas, the Saints turnover differential stands at +14. Still very, very good. But then I get into the Football Outsiders' analysis and things get muddy. Although the Saints' passing defense is still markedly better than it was last season, it's no longer the best in the NFL. Attribute it to injuries, poor play or poor coaching in the last couple of weeks, but they're not the unit they were at the start of the season. The Cowboys put that into light on Saturday, though, come playoff time, expect the defense to be ready to play.
- Had the Saints beat the Cowboys, they would have met every major challenge this season (Philly, NY Giants, and New England) and stood up to the task. As it stands, though, the Saints are 3-1 against the four best teams on their schedule. Not bad, but that one loss towards the end of the season does sting.
- "With the Saints on the verge of perfection, they've decided to put pedal to the metal". Of course, the Saints decide to pull the e-brake right before this story hits newsstands. Oh well.
- "...what happens if the team is undefeated going into the Super Bowl? Will they rise to the challenge or will they, like every Black and Gold team before them, fold in the spotlight?" Luckily, we don't have to worry about an undefeated season and all the raised expectations that come with it. However, the Saints could clinch home-field advantage on Sunday against Tampa Bay and expectations will rise again that this team should make it to the Super Bowl in Miami. How will the team react then?
So no, the Saints loss on Saturday didn't completely derail my story, but it does change the tone of the article. Towards the end, Supa Saint says, "There's always something in the back of everybody's head, something telling you not to get too excited because something horrible is about to happen." Was everyone just a little too excited about the Saints going undefeated? Was the team? The loss brings everyone back to earth and, in a way, refocuses everyone's energy on the ultimate goal: a Super Bowl win.
Anyone who thinks the loss was step one in some sort of grand late-season implosion by the Saints is probably overeacting. Anyone who thinks the loss was a complete fluke is ignoring the truth. The Saints still are one of the best teams in the NFL, but they're not perfect. Luckily, you don't have to be perfect to win it all.