COLUMNS

Hope in the air

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Weekly Citizen Sports Editor Kyle Riviere.

I have to admit that after watching the Saints play like a team jockeying for the No. 1 overall pick in a 39-17 beatdown in Philadelphia, my hopes weren't high that they'd turn it all around four days later against the undefeated Falcons.

Little did I know that they would recapture some of that dome magic that had eluded them for the past year.

Little did I know that some no-named special-teamer would give us all a big dose of deja vu as he almost perfectly reenacted Steve Gleason's memorable blocked punt for a touchdown from the 2006 season.

It all happened in a truly special night in New Orleans that resulted in an impressive 31-21 victory that the Saints needed in the worst possible way.

So, what are the chances that New Orleans rides this momentum to the playoffs?

Not good. Probably like one in 50. So, you're telling there's a chance?

Yes, this victory most certainly keeps the Saints' hopes alive for a possible resurgence and return to the postseason.

The possibility of that happening may be small, but their performance last Thursday night has at the very least served as a beacon of hope.

It's quite simple to explain the Saints' deficiencies this season. They have had problems keeping starters healthy, and they just haven't played very well.

Last night, they still had a few players nicked up, but they played their best game of the year.

Can they play like that all season? The jury is still out, but at least we know now that the potential is there.

They dominated a Falcons team that was undefeated, a team that was one of the hottest in the league. If New Orleans can consistently play like that for the rest of the season, they can win most of their remaining games.

The biggest key on offense has to be that offensive line. They kept Drew Brees pretty clean on Thursday night after being man-handled by the Eagles.

They have to keep Brees upright for the offense to be effective.

As seen on Thursday night, when Brees has protection, he's still one of the best quarterbacks in the game.

He looks to be back to 100 percent after missing a game with a sore shoulder. Against a fast and active Falcon defense, he went a proficient 30-39 for 312 yards and a touchdown.

Rookie Willie Snead has continued to improve with each week. If he can continue to fill the void in the deep passing game left by the trade of Kenny Stills, the Saints will be in good shape.

Prior to the win over the Falcons, the passing game was clearly sputtering due to the lack of production at tight end.

When you get rid of Jimmy Graham, you get rid of a guaranteed 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. You get rid of a huge red-zone threat.

However, Benjamin Watson hopped into the DeLorean on Thursday night and came through with 10 catches for 127 yards and a score.

Watson is 34 years old, so it's a big question whether or not he can consistently do that for the rest of the year, but Thursday night was very encouraging none the less.

The performance of the New Orleans defense was the greatest positive to take away from the effort.

For the most part, they controlled the Falcon rushing attack, and most importantly, they got after Matt Ryan--sacking him five times. Three of those sacks came from Cam Jordan.

The rookie Hau'ol Kikaha continues to be one of the team's best pass-rushers. He got himself a sack as well.

He got dinged up later in the game, but offseason acquisition Dannell Ellerbe had a huge night--coming up with 14 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Jairus Byrd and Keenan Lewis continue to get healthy in the secondary. Meanwhile, Delvin Breaux gets better with every game.

He has emerged as the team's top cornerback. He was brilliant on Thursday night as he covered arguably the best wideout in the NFL in Julio Jones.

If you take away a 30-yard grab Jones made on the Falcons' opening drive, he finished with just five catches for 63 yards.

But the greatest thing the defense did was force turnovers. Yes, they bent and gave up some yards, but when they had to, they stepped up and made huge plays.

They forced three turnovers altogether. That's reminiscent of how that 2009 Super Bowl winning defense played back in 2009.

But if you want you want more rays of hope, it lies in the Saints' schedule.

The rest of their games are very winnable. They include matchups with the Titans, Redskins, Texans and Jaguars.

They play the Panthers at home after nearly beating them in Carolina with Luke McCown at quarterback. It's hard seeing them losing to the lowly Buccaneers twice in one season.

Pulling a 180 and making a run to the postseason, that may be asking a lot after a 1-4 start, but Thursday night at least kept that idea from being just some pipe dream. It's now possible.