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Tuesday, July 29, 2014
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Gazzolo Column: Saints’ window of opportunity closing

Last Modified: Wednesday, September 04, 2013 5:07 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

While the Saints’ window of opportunity hasn’t closed just yet, it is clearly starting to creak downward.

That makes this season so much more important, because the last year was a waste.

A 7-9 campaign would have been celebrated in the past, now it’s barely tolerated.

There were no brown paper bags but the entire year was embarrassing, from the bounty gate fiasco to the play of the defense.

Only Drew Brees and the offense kept the season remotely interesting.

But the club has buried the past, concentrating on this as the big year and for good reason.

Sean Payton is back on the sidelines after his one-season suspension and that brings hope.

While Payton doesn’t want to be considered the savior he does give life to a franchise that went about its business last year lost in the fog.

And, after all, he is the guy who did bring home that Super Bowl trophy.

However, there are some concerns. It has been four seasons since that lone championship run and that is a lifetime in the NFL.

This is not the same team, but it has one major piece of the puzzle still in place.

Drew Brees is behind center and that means a lot. He is one of the best in the business and while he is no longer a spring chicken, he is driven to get back to the playoffs.

However, his age (34) is long in quarterback years and does show that there are not that many more falls for this team to be counting on him. Thus, the sense of urgency.

“There is urgency every season,” Payton told the Associated Press. “Each year is different, and certainly there are goals and expectations. Most importantly, we don’t try and put limitations on what we think we can and can’t do. We don’t know enough about this team yet.”

No limitations is a good thing. The Saints have the fire power to contended with the NFL’s best.

But, and there is always a but, this is also a team that has big holes to fill, especially on defense.

Last year they were the worst in all the league. Some would argue one of the worst of all time.

Enter Rob Ryan to save the day.

He became the defensive coordinator about the time Payton was coming back from suspension.

You could easily argue that if Ryan’s defense is half as good as the team’s offense he might be the franchise’s savior.

More likely he will be just a large piece of the puzzle.

The preseason showed us some of the good and some of the bad, so where this team is at we won’t really know until about 3 p.m. Sunday. That’s about when the game against defending division champ Atlanta will be ending.

Since it is a division game, and against the team picked to win the NFC South, and at home, this is one of the biggest games of the year for the Saints.

Last season started at home and the Saints lost to Washington. Not only did the New Orleans defense help kick-start the RG III rage, it also sent the team into catch-up mode.

After Robert Griffith III torched them in the Superdome, the Saints were forced to do all the chasing and never really caught up.

They get their fresh start Sunday.

They can either smack the favorites in the mouth and announce to one and all they are back as a contender or they can start playing catch up again.

A win and that window is wide open.

A loss and it looks like it is closing pretty fast.

We begin to find out which it is this weekend.

• • •

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

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