There are two dozen members of the Patriots who know exactly what the New Orleans Saints are going through right now. The Historic 24 are all that’s left on the Patriots’ roster from their record-setting 2007 team, which became the first and only team in NFL history to post a perfect 16-0 regular season since the league moved to a 16-game slate in 1978.
Along with the Indianapolis Colts, the Saints are sitting at 10-0 entering Monday night’s matchup with the Patriots at the Superdome, which already has the ESPN hype-machine overheating, treading down the perfect path the Patriots blazed.
It’s an incredible place to be for the Saints, a franchise that has never gone to a Super Bowl and for a large chunk of its existence inspired its fans to wear brown paper bags over their heads to partially obstruct the horror unfolding on the football field. The Saints biggest imprint on the league is found in those NFL Films football follies videos.
But this season, Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who leads the NFL in touchdown tosses with 22, and his team have heeded the old New Orleans credo and let the good times roll, while rolling through the league.
There are some similarities between these Saints and the ’07 Patriots. Tom Brady’s 50 touchdown passes and Randy Moss’s 23 touchdown receptions are safe, but the Saints are on course to challenge some of the Patriots’ records.
New Orleans is averaging 36.9 points per game, which puts them on a pace for 590 points, one more than the Patriots’ record-setting point output in 2007. New Orleans has scored 48 touchdowns this season, 4.8 per game. Multiplied over a 16-game season, New Orleans would score 76.8 touchdowns. The Patriots’ NFL-record for touchdowns is 75.
In the first 10 games of the season, the Saints have scored 40 or more points four times, just like the ’07 Patriots.
The Patriots were coached by a former New York Giants coordinator and Bill Parcells assistant, Bill Belichick, and the Saints are coached by Sean Payton, who was the Giants offensive coordinator when they went to Super Bowl XXXV during the 2000 season and worked for Parcells in Dallas for three years as an offensive assistant.
The similarities end there because as old friend Rodney Harrison would say, no disrespect, but the Saints are not the 2007 New England Patriots. That’s like saying whoever the heck won the Tour de France this year is Lance Armstrong.
You can debate whether the Saints are even the best team in the league right now. Some pigskin pundits would put their lot with the Colts or even the 9-1 Vikings. In ’07, there was no debate — the Patriots wouldn’t allow one.
Super Bowl title or no Super Bowl title, that team was special. The first 10 games of 2007 may have been the single most awe-inspiring stretch of football the league has ever seen. The Patriots simply toyed with and demoralized teams. They averaged 41.1 points per game over that time and allowed just 15.7.
It wasn’t just that those Patriots won, it was the unforgettable fashion in which they did it.
The games from that part of the season were more conquests than contests. You can say the Patriots, enraged by “Spygate,” were poor sports and ran up the score, but the rest of the league was helpless to do anything about it.
There was the Sunday afternoon in sunny South Florida when Brady, Moss and Welker simply played pitch and catch against the Dolphins’ defenseless secondary and New England led 42-7 at the half. Or the next week at home against the Redskins when Brady threw his 30th touchdown pass of the season in the eighth game, a pass that gave the Patriots a 45-0 fourth-quarter lead on their way to a 52-7 romp. Or Moss’s four first-half touchdown receptions in a 56-10 beatdown of the Buffalo Bills in front of a national television audience on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.”
However, what made that New England team truly historically great wasn’t how it performed in its first 10 games, which with the exception of a heart-stopping comeback against the Colts, were blowouts, it was how they responded in the final six games when every game was played with the intensity of a playoff contest and every opponent went Pat Benatar on them.
“We always got everyone’s best shot,” said former Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour in the claustrophobic confines of the visiting locker room at Giants Stadium, moments after the Patriots completed the 16-0 odyssey. “I think that is what makes it so special.”
The Saints have gotten a small taste of this already. They went into St. Louis on Nov. 15 expecting to romp over the woebegone Rams and instead the game came down to the final play with the Rams throwing into the end zone to try to end the Saints undefeated season. The Saints escaped with a 28-23 victory.
The truth is the Saints might not want to try to match the ’07 Patriots. The 16-0 took its toll. It was a physical and emotional drain. The hype, the records, the scrutiny, the four prime-time night games in the second half of the season, it all wore the team down.
By Super Bowl XLII, they really didn’t have much left in the tank and it showed. Something they wouldn’t admit until training camp the next season.
“Every season has an emotional and physical draining sense to it, but that season yeah in particular,” said former Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs during 2008 training camp. “When that final bell rung, it was like you could finally pass out and nobody was going to touch you and tell you to get up, so yeah it was exhausting.”
Brees said in an ESPN interview that the Patriots in general are the team that the Saints are trying to emulate.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but those Patriots were a sui generis outfit. Sorry, Saints, you’re no Patriots.