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Gazzolo Column: Saints off to great start, but plenty left to prove

Last Modified: Wednesday, October 02, 2013 10:05 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Off to a perfect start, the Saints have given their fans hope.

This comes after the dismal performance of a year ago, when the club bottomed out early and couldn’t dig itself out of the hole.

Last season’s 0-4 start smashed any playoff dreams while this year’s 4-0 start is bringing life back to the franchise and the city.

But we are only a quarter of the way through and there are still 12 games to play. That’s a long time to keep this momentum going, even for a team with a giant chip on its shoulder.

Still, there is far more good to talk about. A three-game lead over Atlanta plus owning the tiebreaker over the team expected to win the division is a huge lead, even at the quarter pole.

Then there is the dome factor. The Saints are 3-0 at home, meaning they have just five more games in New Orleans and seven on the road.

This is not a team that has traveled well over the years, but two of those road games are going to be played inside as well.

Beating the Saints under a roof isn’t easy. They are made for the fast track.

With that in mind, the key to this season likely stands with how they play on the road. Maybe no team needs home-field advantage in the playoffs more than the Saints.

In each of their last two playoff losses they dropped close games on the road. And both of those teams are still out there, maybe better than before.

Seattle and San Francisco are likely the best two teams in the NFC, not including the Saints.

The fact that they are the two teams to beat, New Orleans is important only because it did so with home games.

There is a big difference in this year’s Saints squad that makes you believe they can play better on the road. They have a much stronger defense, which is what it takes to win games away from home and when the weather changes.

But that is just a theory. We don’t know how good this defense is on the road just yet.

Beating Tampa Bay doesn’t count.

We will, however, get a chance to see just how far this team and defense have come, and how far it might go, over the next two Sundays.

First, the Saints travel to Chicago this weekend to play the 3-1 Bears, whose defense was exposed last week by Detroit. And Jay Cutler proved he was still Jay Cutler by throwing three interceptions and fumbling.

So a good defense can stop the Bears, or at least get enough turnovers to win a game.

The following week the Saints head north to play undefeated New England, an offensive machine.

Later they will play in Seattle and at home against San Francisco, which will also go a long way in telling us just what kind of a winter it will be in New Orleans.

It’s great to start fast, but it is more important how you finish.

Along the way, we will find out the truth about the Saints, and those answers will come on the road.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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