You could give New Orleans Saints players a pass this week if the only music emanating from the locker room was the “Monday Night Football” theme, and you could understand if coaches had it blaring from loudspeakers during practice.
The undeniable fact is that the Saints have done some of their best work in the Sean Payton era on Monday nights.
Specifically, New Orleans is 10-2 in Monday night games since Payton became head coach in 2006, including eight consecutive victories by an average score of 36-20. The Saints (3-0) will look to extend their MNF streak against Miami (3-0) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Literally, the prosperity began during what perhaps was the city’s darkest hour.
Total electricity hadn’t been restored to New Orleans neighborhoods when the Saints played their first home game under Payton – Sept. 25, 2006, when the Superdome reopened after Hurricane Katrina. Buoyed by a home crowd that hadn’t seen the team in New Orleans since a preseason game before the 2005 season, the Saints overwhelmed Atlanta 23-3 that Monday night.
They haven’t slowed since.
Whether narrow (25-22 over San Francisco on Sept. 20, 2010, or a 17-14 win against the Falcons on Dec. 27, 2010) or lopsided (38-17 over New England on Nov. 30, 2009, or 49-24 vs. the Giants on Nov. 28, 2011), the Saints haven’t failed to complete the Monday night mission in the previous five seasons.
They keep rising to the occasion like few others have.
“They are always big games,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “They are always against very good opponents. They are always very meaningful, just from the standpoint of it’s in your division, or you’re playing a very good team, or it’s the battle of the unbeaten, or whatever it might be.
“It seems like there’s always been something surrounding that game besides just playing in prime time. And then throw on that element; you’re the only game on TV. That’s kind of what you live for, that opportunity to showcase your team and your town.
“We’ve had the fortune of having a lot of those games in the (Mercedes-Benz) Superdome, and they’re showing clips of the city and people out and about having a good time. I think it’s just a great showcase of our city, the Dome and the atmosphere. It’s like the tourism bureau paid for the spot. I think just as a team they all seem to be meaningful games as far as the opponent that you’re playing, and that opportunity.”
Indeed, Brees is correct.
Nine of the 12 Saints MNF games played since 2006 have been in the Superdome. They’re 7-2 in those games, including six straight wins.
“I think at home, you give our fans a whole day to get ready, it’s kind of the next level of noise, energy and excitement,” right tackle Zach Strief said. “As a player, I don’t know that you put extra emphasis on a prime-time game, but there’s certainly more energy in the Dome.
“It’s kind of a heightened sense of awareness all week because everything’s a little bit different. It’s impossible to get into, ‘Oh, this is the routine,’ because here we are on Thursday, practicing like it’s Wednesday. It changes everything up a little bit, kind of freshens it in people’s minds.”
Of course, there are no guarantees just because the game will be played on a certain night. The job still must be done. But it can’t hurt the Saints’ confidence that they’ve done the job better than most in recent seasons.
“I believe that the guys that we have enjoy that opportunity, enjoy playing in that time slot,” cornerback Jabari Greer said. “But every team is different. Past performance doesn’t indicate our future success.
“The teams that we had in the past have had some tremendous success in prime time but this team, we’re forging a new identity. Nothing is promised to us yet. So this is going to be our first test under the lights, and we’re excited about it. We look forward to the challenge and the opportunity of playing complete football game this Monday night.”