The New Orleans Saints have overcome an 0-4 start and the distractions from the bounty scandal to fight their way right back into position for a possible late-season playoff run.
First they have to get their record back to .500.
All that stands between the high-powered Saints and that modest goal is a struggling Raiders team that has allowed 97 points the past two weeks and matched a franchise-worst for points allowed in last week’s 55-20 loss at Baltimore.
“Man, if Baltimore can put up 55, you don’t even want to see what New Orleans can do,” Raiders defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said.
The Saints (4-5) have done quite a bit since the 0-4 start under a cloud from the bounty allegations that led to a season-long suspension for coach Sean Payton and other punishments that have been a distraction all year. With four wins in the past five games, including a 31-27 victory last week over previously unbeaten Atlanta, New Orleans has worked its way back into contention.
“When you dig yourself a hole like we have, every game you play is going to be critical,” interim coach Joe Vitt said.
The Raiders have been up-and-down defensively this season, getting gashed on the ground early in the season by Miami and then getting overwhelmed by Peyton Manning and Denver before a bye week.
Oakland then put together a fairly strong three-week stretch, holding down Matt Ryan and the Falcons to one offensive touchdown and beating one-win Jacksonville and Kansas City in back-to-back weeks.
But the last two weeks have been as bad as it’s ever been defensively in Oakland. Tampa Bay rookie Doug Martin ran for 251 yards in a 42-32 win two weeks ago. That was followed by the drubbing in Baltimore when Joe Flacco picked the Raiders apart for 341 yards and three touchdowns as the Ravens matched the most points ever allowed by the Raiders.
“I know the team that we’re going to face is not the team that gave up 55 points last week or 42 points against Tampa,” Brees said. “This defense has a lot of very talented players on it. They have played very, very well at times. I know that, for us, we’re going to have to play our best game and worry about our execution, and that’s what we’re focused on.”