COMMENTARY | Before the 2013 season began, if I had said the New Orleans Saints would be 5-1 with the best record in the NFC, any Saints' fan would have taken that.
Still, the Saints' first loss of 2013 in heartbreaking fashion to the New England Patriots stings for now. The Saints' defense held Tom Brady and the Patriots twice late in the game before finally giving up the game-winning TD in the closing seconds of the 30-27 loss. But a small dose of perspective will cure the hangover in New Orleans after this tough loss.
A year ago after six games, the Saints were 2-4. With no Sean Payton on the sidelines and virtually no defense on the field, the prospects of playing in Super Bowl 47 in New Orleans were already all but dashed. Saints' fans were confident that Payton would right the ship in 2013. But considering the state of New Orleans' defense and the loss of draft picks in the alleged bounty scandal, fans still had to wonder how quickly things would improve this season.
Through Week 6, the Saints have a 2.5 game lead in the NFC South. Last year's division champions, the Atlanta Falcons, have an atrocious 1-4 record. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are winless as one controversy after another seems to pop up every day in Tampa. And the Carolina Panthers only have two wins against teams with a combined record of 1-10. The Saints may be the first NFL team to clinch its division in 2013.
Although the Saints' defense gave up the game-winning TD, fans have to be pleased with the squad's improvement through Week 6. In 2012, New Orleans allowed the most yards in NFL history. Through Week 5 in 2013, the Saints ranked in the upper half of the NFL in all defensive categories. Turnovers and sacks are up in New Orleans, while opposing yards and points are down. And one could argue that the offense is to blame for Sunday's loss for twice failing to convert a first down late.
After the running backs and offensive line struggled early in 2013, both squads have improved in recent weeks. In the Saints' last two games, opposing defenses have only sacked Drew Brees once in each game. And New Orleans finally had a strong running game against the Patriots. In Week 6, Khiry Robinson ran seven times for 53 yards and a TD. And Pierre Thomas ran 11 times for 51 yards. As a team, the Saints rushed for 130 yards.
Finally, when it comes to tiebreakers that determine home field advantage in the playoffs, losses to teams in the other conference are the least important. Through Week 6, the Saints are 2-0 versus the NFC South and 4-0 overall against the NFC. Regardless of whether the Saints had defeated the Patriots or not, the importance of future showdowns against the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers would not have changed.
The New Orleans Saints are not the first NFL team to lose a game on the road to Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots. When the Saints return to practice in New Orleans, they will have the best record in the NFC. Considering where they were a year ago in mid-October, that should be good enough for any Saints' fan.
Patrick Michael lives in New Orleans and has always been a big fan of the New Orleans Saints. Patrick's favorite Saints season was 2009 when New Orleans won Super Bowl 44. Follow Patrick Michael on Twitter at patmichael84.
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