As we sit at home a little stunned and feel a different as the first time since 2008, with no playoffs for our beloved New Orleans Saints, it’s time to do like the coaches and players…and that means it’s evaluation time.
What went wrong this season? What needs to be improved on offense, defense and special teams? And what players will stay, what players will go, and what coaching changes will be made by Coach Sean Payton? All these questions will be discussed over the next few months.
So let’s try and find out exactly when the 2012 season went in the wrong direction. Yes, it’s the obvious statement, but when it comes to the New Orleans Saints, their start after the first four games of the season has been a key sign of things to come. In the Sean Payton era, success, or lack thereof, has been known after the first four games of the season.
Sure, we all know that teams that get off to a good start more than likely make it to the NFL playoffs, but in the last seven seasons when the Saints have done well through the first four games of the season, they do well the rest of the way. In 2006 the Saints began the season with a 19-14 win over the Cleveland Browns in Coach Payton’s first game as head coach of the Black and Gold. The Saints went on to win their first two games of the season, and after four games the Saints were a surprising 3-1.
Now keep those numbers in mind the rest of the way, as through four seasons under Sean Payton the Saints have begun 3-1 three times and 4-0 on one occasion back in 2009. Now on the flip side of those impressive numbers are the years when the team did not start so well.
In the three seasons in which the Saints did not make the playoffs, the club posted a 1-3 record in 2008 and two 0-4 starts in 2012 and back in 2007. The first quarter of the season has proven to be the sign of things to come for the Saints.
In 2006, the 3-1 start led to a 10-6 overall record, the NFC South Title, and the Saints earned the #2 seed in the NFC playoffs which eventually saw the team play for the NFC Crown for the first time in club history.
In 2007 the Saints started the season with a 41-10 loss to the Colts, which in turn led to a 0-4 start…and the team finished with a 7-9 record. In 2008 the Saints opened the season with a 24-20 win over the Bucs, but after that the Saints lost three straight games coming out the gates with a 1-3 record, and the team finished up the season 8-8 and out of the post season.
Then in 2009 the Saints got off to their best start in club history. Their 4-0 beginning led to a 13-3 record, the NFC South title, the #1 seed in the NFC, and the Saints beat the Vikings to earn their first trip to the Super Bowl in which they went on to beat the Colts 31-17 in Miami.
New Orleans came right back in 2010 and got off to another hot start. The Saints were featured in the league’s opening game as they hosted the Minnesota Vikings, as the Saints won their opening game for the fourth time in five seasons under Sean Payton with a 14-9 win over the Vikings. The Saints went on to a 3-1 start and finished the season 11-5 and New Orleans earned a Wild Card spot, only to lose to the 7-9 Seahawks in the first round of the NFC playoffs. 2011 saw the Saints in the league’s opening game of the season for the third time in five seasons as New Orleans visited Green Bay in a battle of the previous two World Champions.
In a classic shootout style game, the Saints fell to the Packers 42-34. The Black and Gold went on to finish the season on a nine game win streak and had a 13-3 regular season record that earned the Saints the #3 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Saints would go on to lose a heartbreaker to the 49ers in San Francisco 36-32, ending the Saints’ chances at winning two titles in three seasons.
And in 2012 the Saints’ slow start doomed them from the get-go, as another 0-4 campaign would be far too much for the Saints to overcome. The Saints would eventually get back to .500 when they reached 5-5, but the team lost their next three games and finished the season 7-9, and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
So as we ponder “what could have been,” and we will all begin to look forward to the 2013 season, history shows us the first four games of the season will be key. And next year after four games, the Saints record will be a strong indication of what the final 12 games of the regular season will bring.