The New Orleans Saints are now one of three teams in the NFL to be a perfect 5-0 on the season after Sunday’s win over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. More promising for the immediate future, The Black and Gold is the only unbeaten team in the NFC, after Seattle fell to Indianapolis.
Saints fans may be reveling in perfection, frenzied by the fact that 90 percent of teams that start 5-0 make the playoffs, but don’t quote that stat inside the Saints locker room.
“Five wins only gets you five wins, you know?” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “You would be an idiot to listen to that stat and think that you’re automatically going to the playoffs. Winning five games literally gets you nothing but five games. People are going to throw that around and look forward, but right now we’re just trying to get six.”
Indeed, fast starts have not necessarily equated to post season success for the Black and Gold. In 1991, the Saints started 7-0, only to lose the Wild Card game. In 1993, the team started 5-0, but ended 8-8 without ever seeing a playoff game. In 2009 however, the team capitalized on a 13-0 start, riding it all the way to a Super Bowl win.
Perhaps the best news for the Saints is the way the won in Chicago, with the defense setting the tone early and the offense playing with superb ball security.
“To get that kind of start, get our offense the ball and more opportunities early,” Jenkins said, summing up the mindset. “We knew their defense was going to try to force turnovers and get stops. They have a good defense, so for us to get off to a fast start was big for us. We’re finding a way to win that’s different every week. That’s a good sign for a team, but I wouldn’t say we’re complete yet. We’re playing well as far as complementary football: we’re getting turnovers, our offense is sustaining drives. But we still have things we’ve got to work on. We finished pretty well in the fourth quarter, but in the third quarter coming out of the half, we kind of let off the gas a little bit and gave the team a little bit of hope. That’s something we can’t do against these top teams. We beat a good football team, and we’ve got five wins, which is good, but we’re still working.”
“That game was much different than other ones we’ve won earlier in the year,” head coach Sean Payton said. “I think it’s just understanding and being able to play smart football. They’re not all played the same way, and understanding as a team what it takes to win that specific game, is something that if your team gets, and I think we’re beginning to, is an important trait.”
Offensively, this was the first game where the Saints did not turn the ball over once, even though they were clashing with a Bears team known for its ability to force turnovers.
“It’s tough to get wins on the road when you play a good team like that,” Payton said. “There are going to be certain things you have to do to give you a chance to win, and protecting the football is one of them. I felt like throughout the course of the game, it wasn’t loose out there. I thought we handled that element real well.”
Motivation was certainly in play as well.
Payton and quarterback Drew Brees had an extra big chip on their shoulders because they had never won before in Chicago as New Orleans Saints. In fact, the last win the Saints notched actually on Soldier Field was in 2000.
“The team been told all week long about the fact that they hadn’t won there with Payton and Brees, that Drew had never won there,” the voice of the Saints Jim Henderson said. “Sean had them well motivated, well coached. I just thought it was a really excellent preparation for the Saints and continues the thought that maybe this is a kind of kismet season: to go to Chicago, to have them early on the schedule as the Saints did in the fifth game, to have the rain arrive Saturday afternoon and a glorious day Sunday afternoon when the elements didn’t play a part. In those three games for the Saints under Sean Payton and Drew Brees that they’ve lost in Chicago, they’d never kicked off with the temperature above 32 degrees. So a lot of things fell in the Saints’ favor.”
One anomaly those pouring over the stat sheet will notice: the Saints are averaging less than eighty yards per game rushing but still dominating in time of possession.
“Yes, that’s definitely unique, not doing it with a consistent run game,” guard Jahri Evans acknowledged.”Coach Payton and Drew, they have those timing routes where he gets the ball out quick and the short throws actually go for big gains. So we are just trying to stay on the field and keep converting, and that’s what happens when you’re converting on third down, fourth and one like we did. Your confidence will start to go up because you’re starting to stay on the field.”
Running back Pierre Thomas is making his presence felt with his signature screen passes, when rushing opportunities fail to present themselves.
“Sometimes we come up with key blocks where we get guys down on the ground and Pierre is good at spacing those screens,” Evans said. “We just get in his way, and he makes the right play. He just finds a crease. He touched the ball a lot in the run game, and he touched the ball a lot in the passing game as well. He had a lot of touches, and it showed in his production coming up with two touchdowns.”
Sunday, the Saints head to New England to face the 4-1 Patriots, who lost to the Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday by a score of 13-6.