NEW ORLEANS — The Superdome is known for its noise level, and New Orleans Saints fans are known for their passion.
But the vibe — and the sheer volume — on Sunday was something this place hadn’t felt in a long, long time.
“I felt like, man, this was top-three loudest atmospheres,” quarterback Drew Brees said after the Saints’ 23-13, playoff-clinching victory over the Atlanta Falcons. “[The fans] deserved this one. This was all about them. They willed this to happen. So this was phenomenal.”
I’m not going to nitpick with Brees’ ranking or accuse him of hyperbole (even though I can think of at least two playoff wins and one Superdome reopener that should rank higher), because I can’t blame him if he forgot just how loud this place can get when the good times are really rolling.
The Superdome fans really got into the action Sunday, especially after Mark Ingram scored a touchdown to help the Saints pull away. Chuck Cook/USA TODAY Sports
This was definitely the most raucous atmosphere I can remember since at least 2011 — which was the last season when New Orleans won the NFC South and hosted a playoff game.
And now that everybody is back in sync again, it sure looks like the Saints (11-4) are primed to host another playoff game in two weeks. To do that, they’ll have to either win at Tampa Bay next Sunday or have the Carolina Panthers (11-4) lose at Atlanta.
“That was probably as loud as you’re gonna get here. I think maybe one time I’ve heard it louder than this — maybe,” said Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, who was a rookie in 2011 and who fed off that noise with two sacks on Sunday. “When you talk about the energy, we were able to feed off each other, feed off the fans. That’s a hell of a win.”
Credit Sunday’s opponent, first and foremost. The hated Falcons bring out the best in Saints fans when it comes to decibel levels — and this was one of the most meaningful games in the history of a rivalry that spans nearly 50 years, since both teams were in position to win the division entering Sunday.
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Credit also the Saints’ own playoff drought. They haven’t been to the postseason since 2013, so fans have been waiting a long time for something to get this excited for.
But most of all, credit the Saints themselves for living up to the hype.
As we’ve learned over the past three years of 7-9 seasons, crowds go quiet when the team doesn’t give the fans something to cheer for. But this time, the Saints gave them big moments throughout a convincing victory that really put an exclamation point on their breakout season.
“Listen, it all works together,” Brees said. “It all works hand in hand. You know those moments when the momentum in these games becomes so much bigger at home — the big play or the big stop on defense or the big hit. … You keep that crowd engaged, and you see the results. [The opponent] may jump offsides in a critical situation. It’s just remarkable how that can change a game.”
The Saints had hit a bit of a lull over the past month, losing two of the past four games and playing sloppy in last week’s 31-19 home victory over the Jets.
But this was a strong performance filled with big moments from every unit — from cornerback Marshon Lattimore’s incredible “butt pick” interception that came to a rest on his backside before he secured it against his thigh; to Brees’ 54-yard TD pass to Ted Ginn Jr. three plays later; to a pair of goal-line stands by New Orleans’ defense in the second half; to Mark Ingram’s 26-yard TD run; to Alvin Kamara’s 49-yard kickoff return and more.
As I wrote Sunday, the Saints’ defense especially rose to the challenge — in a week in which they lost both starting linebacker A.J. Klein and starting safety Kenny Vaccaro to injured reserve. The revitalized young defense has been one of the stories of this season, and they proved just how legit they are against a dangerous offense led by Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Matt Ryan.
This Saints team doesn’t feel like as much of a Super Bowl favorite or front-runner as those peak teams of 2009 and 2011 did. But it can win in a lot of ways with a defense and run game that are thriving even more than their downfield passing game.
And if Sunday’s game was an indication, the Saints sure look poised to peak at the right time.