Is there anything the Falcons can do to stop the celebrating in New Orleans?
It’s time again for a peek behind enemy lines in the NFC South. The Saints are threatening to make the division title an afterthought by November.
But first: a story. Twenty-six years ago — yes, I am that old — I was working in Los Angeles covering the Rams, this before Georgia Frontiere ran them into the ground with the intent on moving them to St. Louis. I’d like to think Eric Dickerson and I broke into the NFL the same year: 1983. That season, Dickerson ran crazy and I actually did several stories with O.J. Simpson, who liked Dickerson, lived in L.A., was a great quote and, as a bonus, never threatened to kill me.
Anyway, the Rams had a huge season-ending game that season at New Orleans. Both teams were 8-7. The winner likely would get an NFC wildcard berth. The Saints had never been to the playoffs so it was kind of a big deal. Everybody was drunk on Bourbon St. the night before the game (granted, not a rarity). They yelled, “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?” They wore “Who Dat?” T-shirts.
The next day, the Rams won, 26-24, to go to the playoffs. Dickerson, never shy around a microphone, laughed after the game about the “Who Dat” shirts and said, “You watch. There’s gonna be a fire sale on those things tonight.” And he was right. A few of us hard-working journalists returned to the French Quarter Sunday evening and the shirts were marked down to half off.
All of this was a long way of telling you that Saints fans are easily excitable. They love to party. They love to celebrate, and sometimes do so a little prematurely. It’s probably one reason why, after a 6-0 going into Monday’s game against the Falcons, coach Sean Payton felt the need Tuesday to bring everybody back down to earth Tuesday.
This is the best start in New Orleans franchise history since 1991, when the team started 7-0. What happened that year? The Saints went 4-5 in the final nine weeks and then lost their first playoff game — to Jerry Glanville’s Falcons, 27-20.
Payton told the New Orleans media (and therefore was sending a message to fans): “If a month from now when [NBA fans] are talking about, ‘If the playoffs started today,’ with 60 games left, that would be similar. We have a lot of tough games left on the schedule.”
“I do think it’s premature — that’s just my opinion after six weeks, knowing that there are 10 games left — to begin talking about seeding. … We understand why there is interest in a team that’s 6-0, and yet we do understand that we’re still two games away from being at the halfway point.”
That said, if the Saints win this game — and the line has moved from 8 1/2 to 10 points — they’ll already have a three-game lead over the Falcons in the division. That would be something for Saints fans to shout about.
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♦ Trivia time: Can you name the five current NFL franchises that have never played in a Super Bowl?
Time’s up: Well, one was obvious: New Orleans. The other four: Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions. (The Houston Oilers never went to the Super Bowl but the franchise did after relocating as the Tennessee Titans.
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If there’s one certainty, it’s that New Orleans is the only team in the division the Falcons have to worry about. Bringing up the rear:
♦ TAMPA BAY: Things are going so bad in Tampa that some are wondering whether the team already has quit on coach Raheem Morris and he might get fired during the season. The Bucs are 0-7 and there’s no sign of improvement. They’re also making the move to rookie quarteback Josh Freeman, following the failures of Byron Leftwich and Josh Johnson. St. Petersburg Times columnist John Romano wonders if Morris and general manager Mark Dominik might be risking their own futures by starting the 21-year-old Freeman (although we’re probably past the point of risk).
“It is their necks, so it has to be their call. … If they doubt that, they might want to ask Bruce Coslet how his career worked out after starting Akili Smith in his fifth game as a pro. Or they might want to check with Marty Mornhinweg, who put Joey Harrington in the lineup in his third game. Ask Dom Capers about David Carr or Mike Nolan about Alex Smith. The roadside is filled with NFL coaches whose careers were dinged by first-round quarterback flops. … Yes, I know about Ben Roethlisberger. I know about Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. They were starters early in their rookie seasons and were huge successes. What does that tell you? It tells you they were extremely talented and mature players. It tells you they were further ahead of the curve than most rookie quarterbacks. It tells you they were in the right system with the right talent around them. And none of that automatically or necessarily applies to Freeman.”
According to Romano, Freeman (21 years, nine months) would be the fourth youngest starter in the past decade, behind only Michael Vick (21 years, four months), Alex Smith (21 years, four months) and Matthew Stafford (21 years, seven months).
♦ CAROLINA: Goodbye Jake Delhomme? (Finally?) Panthers coach John Fox, who can probably carpool with Morris to the unemployment line before long, won’t commit to a starting quarterback for Sunday’s game at Arizona.
“The reality is we’re not operating very well there, and I don’t know if status quo is necessarily the answer or not. … We definitely need to do whatever it takes to get better. If that entails a quarterback change, that’s what it’ll entail.”
Delhomme is the league’s 32nd ranked quarterback, and he leads the league with 13 interceptions. With Josh McCown on injured reserve, Fox’s only choices for a replacement are Matt Moore and A.J. Feeley.
Wonder what Fox and Morris think when they see Drew Brees and Matt Ryan?