One week a crisis, the next a carnival for Saints

You thought it was over, didn’t you? You weren’t alone.

Two ugly losses at Minnesota and to the Patriots had just about emptied the black-and-gold bandwagon. Sean Payton’s coaching mentor, Bill Parcells, had a description for these moments.

Parcells said that each week in the NFL was “either a crisis or a carnival.” The carnival is back in town.

But, like most things, the truth is somewhere in between.

The Saints defense is improved, but in wins over Carolina and Miami, that defense faced two offensively challenged units.

A better barometer of just how much progress the Saints have made is here: Home against Detroit, then at Green Bay.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has led his team to 26 fourth-quarter comebacks, two fewer than Drew Brees. But, Brees entered the NFL in 2001, Stafford not until 2009.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is off to another solid start with 10 touchdown passes and three interceptions. He’s done it behind a patchwork offense line, riddled with injury.

In the first month of the NFL season, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is the biggest quarterback story. But, Brees is having a very solid year. Brees has yet to throw an interception, along with eight touchdown passes.

The Saints entered the bye week, plus-4 in turnover margin. That’s winning football.

The biggest story in the Saints’ offense is the club’s ability to play solidly without two of its best three wide receivers from a year ago. Willie Snead was suspended for the first three games and was inactive for the Dolphins game.

In March, Brandin Cooks was traded to the Patriots for the last pick in the first round. After five games, Cooks has 18 receptions for 379 yards and two touchdowns. After five games as a Saint in 2016, Cooks had 25 receptions for 428 yards and three touchdowns.

Meantime, the draft choice the Saints got for Cooks has turned into offensive tackle Ryan Ramcyzk, who has started games at both left and right tackle. Before he went to injured reserve, linebacker Alex Anzalone was one of five 2017 draft choices to make big contributions.

Running back Alvin Kamara has been quite good, averaging 5.5 yards per rush. Kamara and fellow running back Mark Ingram are the Saints’ second- and third-leading receivers behind Michael Thomas.

By getting the ball in space to Kamara and Ingram, the Saints still have potential for a big play, without the risk that comes with throwing the football deep down the middle.

So, after the bye week, here we are.

If the Saints split the next two games, they are still in decent shape for a late-season push. If they win the next two, they will have won four straight, longest win streak since the club won the first five games to start the 2013 season.

However, the yellow caution light of optimism is blinking. In each of the last two seasons, the Saints, right about now, have won four of five, only to slip to 7-9 in both 2015 and 2016.

So, the carnival may be in town, but the next pigskin crisis can be just around the corner.

Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at edaniels@clarionherald.org.

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