TIAA Bank Field gets a New Orleans Saints makeover ahead of our Week 1 home game against the Green Bay Packers in Jacksonville.
Control what you can control.
It's not a New Orleans Saints-specific mantra, but arguably no NFL team more has needed to adhere to the tenet than the Saints, who'll play their regular-season home opener against Green Bay not inside the Caesars Superdome, but at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.
An abbreviated rundown of what the Saints have encountered this offseason:
The retirement of Hall of Fame-bound quarterback Drew Brees. Ankle surgery that'll keep elite receiver Michael Thomas out of the lineup for several games. A salary cap situation that outsiders theorized would cripple the franchise, due to the cap lowering after a Covid-19 restricted 2020 season. A six-game suspension for defensive tackle David Onyemata, an emerging star. The departure of defensive tackles Sheldon Rankins and Malcom Brown, who rotated as starters.
A storm, Hurricane Ida, that forced the cancellation of the team's final preseason game, against Arizona, and led to the temporary relocation of football operations to the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area, including players and many of their family members.
And, likely, a dozen or so other distractions that would be considered minor when compared to the aforementioned obstacles.
But the Saints have flown the "control what you can control" banner, an approach they've taken even in the best of times.
"Look, we're here to focus on what we can control," defensive end Cameron Jordan said the day after Hurricane Ida made landfall. "We can't control the damage that happened (in Louisiana). We can't control the friends that are still in New Orleans that waited the storm out. We can call and we can try and keep up with them.
"But when it comes down to football, when it comes to practice, we have to focus on what we can control. We can focus on the energy we put out, we can focus on the energy that we're going to be focused on toward gearing up for Green Bay. We're going to work hard, we're going to stay together. And we're going to get a focus on what we can control."
To a man, Saints players said there was no expectation of pity.
"At the end of the day, we still have a job to do and the show goes on," linebacker Demario Davis said. "Nobody's going to be stopping the NFL season because the New Orleans Saints are going through this and so we still have a job to do. But too whom much is given, much is required."
And if the situation was reversed, the same would hold true.
Defensive tackle Malcolm Roach said if an opponent faced similar circumstances, New Orleans would be concentrating on winning the game, more so than the opponents' plight. Last season, when the Saints played the quarterback-less Broncos – the quarterbacks on Denver's roster all were out due to a breach of Covid-19 protocol – New Orleans methodically handled its business in a 31-3 victory, with Denver forced to use a practice squad receiver, who'd played some quarterback in college, as its quarterback.
What New Orleans has embraced regarding the periphery is the fact that all things considered, its hurdles pale in comparison to the real-life struggles the team has seen and witnessed.
"I think it's more difficult for the people actually going through a lot right now," quarterback Jameis Winston said. "We were blessed this organization allowed us to relocate to Dallas. That's why I called out Louisiana and the South earlier. They are being resilient and persevering right now. We have to do the same.
"There's a lot more people that are in way more difficult situations than we are in. We're blessed because we get to go out and play a game we love. The majority of us have our families here with us. We're praying that other people and their families are safe and secure in New Orleans.
"Our objective is to go out and bring some excitement to the city of New Orleans by going out there (Sunday) and winning a football game. That would do a lot (for the city)."
Focusing on the game is one of the things that the Saints can control.
"I think most importantly is making sure the players' families and the players themselves are in a good spot," Coach Sean Payton said. "We're set up here with a real good location. The practice facility and setup at TCU is outstanding. Having meeting room space and all of those things are accounted for: players' families, coaches' families, and everyone in the football ops department. That allows them to focus more directly on the game."