METAIRIE, La. – The chant started while players were on their way into the New Orleans Saints’ victorious postgame locker room last Sunday at New England:
“We’re going home! We’re going home!”
Then a few hours later, when the flight attendant announced, “Welcome back to New Orleans,” the team plane erupted in cheers.
The Saints (2-1) were away for 29 days after evacuating to the Dallas/Fort Worth area because of Hurricane Ida. Players have spent this week talking about how much they appreciate spending time with family, sleeping in their own beds and getting back into a normal routine.
There has also been plenty of talk about how excited they are to finally play a real home game in the Superdome on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox) against the New York Giants (0-3). Their Week 1 home game against the Green Bay Packers was moved to a neutral site in Jacksonville, Florida.
“That was the first thing that I thought about, riding past the [team hotel where they had parked their cars downtown], riding past Caesars Superdome: ‘Man, we got a home game in the Superdome!’” quarterback Jameis Winston said. “Like, ‘Man, we’re back in our city.’ That’s what hit me.”
The Saints haven’t been waiting for this moment just the past four weeks. It has actually been nearly two years since they got to enjoy the Superdome at full capacity because of COVID-19 restrictions in 2020. Linebacker Demario Davis said he “can’t wait” to hear the place at full volume again.
“It’s going to be electric in that place, for sure,” Davis said. “I just know what this thing means to the city and the fan base. It’s going to be crazy in that building.”
• Brady-Pats biggest game in Bos. history?
• Latest on Deshaun Watson and Texans
• Why Kyler demoralizes would-be tacklers
• ‘Old-man’ strength of Panthers DC Phil Snow
• HOFer Flores’ impact goes beyond Raiders
• Don’t expect Najee to catch ton of passes
Winston has started only one preseason game for the Saints in the Superdome. Before that, his experience came on the other sideline with the rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And he insisted “without a doubt” the Superdome is “definitely the loudest place I’ve been in.”
“I know how much of an impact that affected me, that affected our team,” Winston said. “I just think this community embraces and loves football more than a lot of communities. It’s a culture. I mean, I’m a kid from Alabama, I know about the Saints. I know how they live and breathe football down here.”
The Superdome, of course, will provide more than emotional advantages. The Saints’ offensive line – which suffered through some communication problems in the team’s Week 2 loss at the Carolina Panthers – will enjoy the quiet when it has the ball.
On the flip side, the crowd noise will provide an even bigger edge for a New Orleans defense that has quietly become one of the best in the NFL in recent years.
Dating back to Week 4 of last season, the Saints rank No. 1 in the league in points allowed (17.81 per game) and No. 2 in yards allowed (301.9 per game).
And veteran leaders like Davis, defensive end Cameron Jordan and safety Malcolm Jenkins have embraced the idea that they want to be the identity of the team in the wake of quarterback Drew Brees’ retirement.
“We’re starting to see that we’re the strength of our team. And we’re gonna have to play big in order for our team to have success,” Jenkins said after returning an interception for a touchdown during Sunday’s 28-13 win over the Patriots. “That just is the identity and the formula that seems to be working for us. … We think the heart of our team is gonna be on our defense.
“Last year, on paper, we had the potential to be good. This year, we know we’re good.”
Meanwhile, Saints coach Sean Payton has no doubt been preaching that his team can’t rely on the frenzied atmosphere alone. While discussing all the advantages of being back in front of a full home crowd for the first time since 2019, Payton said, “The focus still has to be on all the things necessary to win.”
But the fact New Orleans has been able to produce two decisive wins against the Packers and the Patriots despite being displaced by Ida bodes well.
Not to mention all the other adversity the Saints have faced, from a rash of injuries to a COVID outbreak among the coaching staff.
And smaller hassles like rookie linebacker Pete Werner coming home to a nasty, unidentified smell in his home that required four hours of deep cleaning and several candle purchases on Amazon.
“We were stuck in those environments in Dallas, but we’re honestly thankful for it,” Werner said. “Because we can kind of hold that adversity that we had, then use it to our advantage now.”