Da Boot Sports
Article courtesy of Crescent City Sports
By: Les East
NEW ORLEANS – It had been 637 days since the New Orleans Saints played in front of a sellout crowd in the Superdome.
A lot happened in that time – COVID-19 necessitated all sorts of adjustments, Drew Brees retired, Hurricane Ida hit.
Still, it seemed like déjà vu all over again Sunday.
In that last sold-out game, Kirk Cousins threw a touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph on the first possession of overtime and the Minnesota Vikings beat the Saints 26-20 in a wild-card playoff, ending New Orleans’ 2019 season.
In the latest sold-out game, Rudolph was back with the visiting team in the Dome, but it was Saquon Barkley running six yards for a touchdown on the first possession of overtime to give the New York Giants a 27-21 victory.
This loss certainly doesn’t end this season.
But it was reminiscent of that last loss and not just because both served as reminders that the NFL overtime rules are inherently unfair in allowing any team to potentially lose any overtime game without ever possessing the ball in the extra period.
More importantly both games served as reminders that NFL teams that have a better record than their opponent are vulnerable if they fail to play as well as their opponent.
Thus the NFC South champion Saints, who were 13-3 two years ago, lost to a 10-6 wild-card team from Minnesota.
Thus this 2-1 Saints team, with impressive wins against Green Bay and New England, lost to a winless Giants team that was missing two starting wide receivers.
Every team in the NFL is coached by professionals who work really hard to prepare their professional players to succeed.
And even teams with inferior records aren’t all that inferior to teams with superior records.
The NFL is designed to keep the gap between the best teams and the worst teams relatively small and it mostly works that way. The disparity between the best and the worst gets bigger as the season progresses and the best teams become more confident and the worst teams get dispirited.
But we have just entered October. This inaugural 17-game season hasn’t reached the one-quarter mark yet.
Teams that are off to slow starts aren’t dispirited yet. If anything they feel a sense or urgency to keep fighting because there is enough time to salvage respectability.
They might not have much of a chance to win their division or make the playoffs or have a winning record. But with this much time left much can change.
The Giants certainly weren’t dispirited, not even after losing their last two games on last-second field goals by Washington and Atlanta.
The Saints had plenty of spirit too for their long-awaited home opener after a month-long displacement to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
When they opened last season amid COVID restrictions, not only was the Dome devoid of fans, the neighborhood around the Dome was eerily quiet and littered with countless signs reminding citizens that tailgating was strictly prohibited.
But on Sunday those same streets were filled with tailgaters barbecuing, drinking and socializing in preparation for the kickoff.
Inside the Dome it was loud. A full-throated “Who Dat” chant went up early. The players were as emotional as the spectators.
Then the game began.
It was not a great day for Sean Payton and his staff.
The offense started slowly and that helped the Giants take the early lead.
The defense started better, but the pass rush vanished and in its absence Daniel Jones picked apart the secondary for 400-plus yards.
Still the Saints flirted with taking command of a game in which they didn’t play their best.
Jameis Winston was an efficient 17 of 23 for 226 yards and a touchdown, Taysom Hill ran for two touchdowns and Alvin Kamara rushed for 120 yards on a career-high 26 carries.
Those are good numbers, but they weren’t good enough.
The Saints took a 21-10 lead with 12:09 remaining in the game, but the Giants weren’t fazed.
Jones threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Barkley, ran for a two-point conversion and drove the Giants to Graham Gano’s 48-yard field goal with 31 seconds left to force overtime.
Then the Giants won the coin toss and took advantage of the opportunity.
And the Saints lost.
Just like 637 days earlier.