We already know both teams are in the process of turning a slow start into.. something.. hopefully really a great something but who knows what will happen in the future. But they're clearly improving. Each team turned in its best performance thus far during what we all figured would be a pivotal weekend. LSU just ruined the LIFE of an ancient rival. And the Saints have positioned themselves to play for first place (!) Thursday night in Charlotte. Football season is longer than you think. This one may just be getting started.
Anyway one common denominator here that wasn't so obvious to me before is youth. LSU fans have had to be patient all season with many key positions manned by freshmen or first year starters. But they're talented freshmen who started to grow up a little now after six or seven games.
Meanwhile, Saints fans tend to think of their heroes as veterans. This is year 9 of Sean Payton and Drew Brees (yeah yeah not even halfway done) and with other familiar mainstays like Marques Colston and Robert Meachem hanging around, the tendency is for fans to focus on the general "Grandpa" vibe the Saints seem to give off.
But what if we told you that what the Saints have really been doing all year is waiting on some young guys to get it together?
While many have been quick to lay the blame for the Saints' early-season struggles squarely on Brees and his uncharacteristically high seven interceptions through seven games, the players have not. Not even after last week's meltdown in Detroit, when Brees finished the game by throwing incompletions on 12 of 14 passes, one of which was a late four-quarter interception that put the Lions in position for the winning touchdown.Every season is different. Rosters shift. Players get better or worse or hurt or suddenly become living symbols of everything that is awful about America. And even teams with a core of veterans have to spend some time figuring out how to fit the new team together.
It was Brees who, in fact, rallied the team after that devastating loss; Brees who, despite his heartfelt disappointment, remained a positive influence in the locker room and didn't allow the team to sulk or lose focus; and Brees who, Graham said, demanded more from each and every player leading up to Sunday's win.
"I mean we've been giving all we have but he demanded even more from us as a whole, as a receiver group, as an O-line, our running game, he just demanded all the little things and we were able to do that tonight," Graham said.
Right tackle Zach Strief railed the leadership last week for not doing enough to pull the younger players along. That, he said, was no longer an issue.
"We've got some young guys that have never been in those situations and they need to hear it and that's what I was really talking about last week when I said that it's on us," he said. "You have to teach that every year because you can't take it for granted that a guy knows what it was like in '11 when we started rolling because there were like five of us (then)."
The Saints offense, and the team for that matter, responded with its most complete game of season, racking up 495 yards en route to the team's 14th consecutive prime-time win in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
We've been complaining about the deep passing game all season but it's tough when your main threats there are a rookie and a second year player battling through an injury. Getting those guys in synch is probably going to take some time. It's nice if you can eke out a few wins while you're going through this process but it doesn't always work out that way. But if you can manage to just hang in long enough... and if your nearest rivals suck enough to allow you the time.. you might start figuring it out after six or seven games.
The 2014 Saints might finally be figuring it out. Stills is getting healthier. Cooks is getting more comfortable. And, we assume, the veterans are adjusting to being veterans on this team. In Grandpa Sean's case this means sending everybody annoying email forwards of his favorite Ziggy cartoons. Meanwhile Drew Brees is.. sharing banal words of wisdom.
Said Brees, "My grandfather always said: there's three types of people, three types of teams: those that make it happen, those that watch it happen, and those who wake up one day and say, 'What the heck happened?' I feel like all this year we've been waking up and saying, 'What the heck happened?' and it's about time we made it happen."Whatever you say, Grandpa.
That's probably wrong, though. Football is so wacky and chaotic that most often the only thing we can do to explain it is wait til it's over and then play, "What the heck happened?" And this week, the best we can figure is that the Saints might be figuring out how to be a good football team. But check with us after Thursday because we might have a whole different idea then.