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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Maybe we've seen this particular New Orleans Saints movie before

Posted By on Tue, Nov 25, 2014 at 4:44 PM

click to enlarge 5017228859_d50c025223_z.jpg
This Saints team is stupid, so here's a cat in a Drew Brees jersey. Via Peter Vidrine.

The Saints are 4-7. Unthinkably, they've lost three straight home games, including last night's game against the Baltimore Ravens, which took from Saints fans the last stronghold of New Orleans' Super Bowl era: primetime homefield dominance. After next week's game vs the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Saints will probably be 4-8.

Nobody saw this mess coming — but maybe we've seen this movie before.

During the 2003 holiday season, the Saints beat the Dallas Cowboys in their season finale. That win gave the 2003 Saints an 8-8 record, but I wasn't amused, and I didn't cheer; to my mind, the win only ensured Jim Haslett would still be the Saints' coach in 2004, which would inevitably cause another mediocre season. The worst thing for a sports fan is the feeling that you know exactly how everything will play out: Where's the fun in that?

The first 12 weeks of the 2004 season did nothing to change my mind. The Saints were listless, and they had the worst defense in the NFL. At 4-8, they seemed to be out of contention, and they hadn't won more than three consecutive games under Haslett since 2000, so a turnaround seemed impossible. We knew how that story would end — with the bottom finally falling out.

Except, instead, the Saints went on the road to play a struggling NFC opponent, and came home with a win; they faced three divisional opponents after that, and beat them all to finish at .500, on the hottest streak any Haslett team had managed since the heady days of Hakim and his dropped ball. They found themselves in playoff contention until former Saints kicker Doug Brien missed an overtime field goal, giving the St Louis Rams a win and giving the Rams, not the Saints, the NFC's final wildcard spot.

Those Rams went on to win a playoff game.

The 2004 Saints were not a good football team, but, against a favorable schedule, they got hot. More importantly, their little run to .500 and a near-playoff berth injected a little fun into a portion of the Jim Haslett era that was often anything but fun. It was a sign that, as much as we think we know what's going to happen, as much as the signs point to some predetermined and miserable result, we don't actually know how this football stuff will play out.

The 2004 team is only relevant now, a decade later, because of how unexpectedly similar the 2014 Saints seem to that one. These Saints have a streaky offense and an awful defense, just like the 2004 ones. Because the Steelers feature an nigh-unstoppable passing attack that will probably obliterate the remains of New Orleans' secondary, the Saints will likely be 4-8 after 12 games.

And, like the 2004 Saints, the 2014 ones will then face a four-game slate consisting of one struggling conference opponent (in this case the Chicago Bears) and three NFC south rivals. The Bears are pretty bad, and the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are all awful. 

The one difference between now and then is that the 2004 Saints weren't still playing for a divisional title. Whether you like it or not — and I'm not even sure I do — the 2014 Saints still are.

Right now, most of us feel the best thing the Saints could do is just stop playing football games. The greatest thing the 2014 season could offer us is to simply end.

But in a few weeks, the Saints will welcome the Atlanta Falcons to town for a game that will likely determine a divisional title. 

Despite how we feel today, we're going to care when that happens.

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