The way the 2012 season has started for the New Orleans Saints, you would think that Gregg Williams and/or Jonathan Vilma had put a bounty — “allegedly” — on their old teammates from the Crescent City.
Most believed that the Saints would take a step back following the season-long suspension of head coach Sean Payton. But no one predicted the team that has a combined 37–11 record over the last three seasons — including a victory in Super Bowl XLIV — would start the 2012 season so slow.
New Orleans opened the year with a stunning 40–32 loss at home to Washington, whose rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III started the Twitter trend of “Griffining” after throwing an 88-yard scoring strike for his first career touchdown pass.
On the road at Carolina in Week 2, the Saints fell 35–27 to the NFC South rival Panthers. Through two weeks, the Saints defense had allowed a combined 922 yards and 75 points to RG3- and Cam Newton-led teams.
A return trip to New Orleans for a matchup against then-winless Kansas City in Week 3 looked like a can’t miss. But that was not the case, as the Saints took a 24–6 lead in the third quarter before collapsing for a 27–24 overtime loss to the Chiefs — in a game where the Saints defense allowed the longest touchdown run in franchise history (91 yards).
Although, New Orleans did appear to have won for one brief, shining moment when the replacement refs wrongly ruled a Kansas City fumble and Roman Harper return for a touchdown in overtime.
A trip to Lambeau Field in Week 4 was the last thing anyone in black and gold wanted to see on the horizon. But New Orleans went blow-for-blow with Green Bay. The Saints even had a chance to take a late fourth-quarter lead on a 48-yard field goal. Garrett Hartley missed, however, and the Saints lost, 28–27, falling to 0–4 for the first time since 2007.
Now New Orleans heads back home to face San Diego in prime time on Sunday night. The stars appear to have aligned. The Saints have not lost three straight games at home since 1995. And the Chargers franchise provides inspiration, as the only team to make the playoffs after starting 0–4.
To top it off, Brees is poised to break the all-time record for consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass — a mark he currently shares with Johnny Unitas (47) — against his former team.
Despite a brutal offseason and first quarter of the season, there is hope.
“The fact that we have great guys and the leadership in the locker room is allowing us to improve. I say it again, it’s not good enough; 0–4 is not good enough,” said interim coach Aaron Kromer.
“You can see it coming. You can see we’re on the cusp of breaking out. … This team is all in, and they are on the cusp of becoming a very productive, winning team.”