NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Saints could see themselves playing for another Super Bowl championship right in their hometown. The Philadelphia Eagles had similar visions about ending the season in the Big Easy, a trophy in their hands and confetti falling all around.
It’s not working out like they planned.
Not even close.
With the season approaching the midway point, both are teetering on the edge of irrelevance heading into Monday night’s game at the Superdome, each facing an increasingly desperate plight to turn things around.
“These are two teams that wanted be in a different place than they are right now,” Saints linebacker Jonathan Casillas said.
After winning 37 games over the last three years, the Saints (2-5) ran into trouble — big trouble — before the season even began. An alleged bounty scheme to injure opposing players resulted in the banishment of defensive guru Gregg Williams and a season-long suspension for coach Sean Payton, leaving Drew Brees & Co. to pick up the pieces.
Instead of rallying in the face of adversity and nationwide scorn, the Saints have fallen apart. The defense is historically bad. The running game is awful. Brees is still one of the game’s top quarterbacks, but he can’t do it alone.
“We’ve just got to keep hammering away and stick together,” Brees said. “This is when a lot of teams that are less mentally tough start pointing fingers and getting really frustrated. That’s not our mentality. That’s not the way I was brought up within this organization. That’s not the foundation we were built on. There’s never been a more important time to just circle wagons, rally around each other, and make it about each week. One at a time. We can’t look at anything else.”
Philadelphia (3-4) can certainly relate to what the Saints are going through, at least on the field. The Eagles won three of their first four games — by a grand total of four points — but a three-game losing streak has threatened the job security of longtime coach Andy Reid, which in turn has raised questions about how much longer Michael Vick will be the starting quarterback.
While Vick still has the job, another loss could very well push Reid to make a change, if for no other reason than to show he’s willing to do something dramatic to save the season — and perhaps his own job.
“We’re all standup men and we understand our responsibilities,” Reid said. “We’ve got to do better. That’s what we have to do. But it starts with me.”
Reid gave a strong vote of confidence to Vick, saying he never seriously considered deposing his starting quarterback despite obvious frustration after last week’s 30-17 home loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
“Michael,” the coach said, “was the quarterback, is the quarterback and will continue to be the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles. I can’t make it any more clear than that. It’s important that I get my job going in the right direction and making sure that we win football games and that I coach to win football games. I’m not doing a good enough job of that and that’s shown over the last three weeks.”
Vick insisted his approach to the game hasn’t changed, despite all the speculation about his status. He was rather ordinary against the Falcons (21 of 35 for 191 yards and a touchdown), but at least he didn’t turn over the ball. That was a major step forward after he threw eight interceptions and lost five fumbles in the first six games.
“I don’t worry about the outside distractions, or what could happen, or what should happen. I control what I can control until I’m told otherwise,” Vick said. “In the grand scheme of things, you’ve got to go out and you’ve got to be productive. Not just me, but from everybody on this football team. We’re holding everybody accountable and responsible right now (to) do their jobs.”
If Vick doesn’t have a breakout game this week, he might not have a starting job.
The Saints have become the first team since at least 1950 — and very likely in the history of the NFL — to give up at least 400 yards in seven straight games. They are on pace to shatter the record for most yards allowed in a season, giving up 50 yards more per game than the next-worst team in the league rankings, Buffalo.
Much like the Eagles are sticking with Vick, New Orleans plans no major changes on the defensive side. Interim coach Joe Vitt said it would be folly to think the Saints could suddenly put in a whole new scheme or make wholesale lineup changes at this point, no matter how bad the results have been up to now.
“If you have dramatic changes, if you have radical changes, that’s when panic sets in,” Vitt insisted. “That being said, if we think we can do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result, that’s the definition of insanity. Every week we’re going to have new wrinkles, we’re going to have a couple of auxiliary fronts, we’re going to have a couple of auxiliary looks. But we’re not going to rewrite the playbook.”
There’s still time to rewrite the season. But — and this goes for both teams — they better hurry up and get started.
“I don’t like to call it desperation. I like to call it urgency,” Saints receiver Lance Moore said. “It’s definitely a game that both teams need. Any time you say desperate, I think sometimes people push and try to do a little bit too much. I think urgency is a little more accurate.
“Hopefully,” he added, “we’re a little more urgent than them.”
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