NEW ORLEANS — For Jabari Greer, adhering to the adage that NFL defensive backs must have short memories is easier said than done.
After making what could turn out to be a season-saving play at the end of last Sunday’s 31-27 victory over Atlanta, Greer struck a chord with fans in a moment of humility.
Because of two long passing plays he had given up earlier in the game, Greer said he’d been feeling “depressed” and envisioned his “name on the waiver wire.” He was grateful to have made a diving, fourth-down breakup of a pass in the end zone to Roddy White in the final minutes, but that did not entirely erase his bad memories of big plays previously given up to White and Julio Jones.
“Even though we’re professionals and we seem to be alpha males, we’re all human and we’re all subjected to humility,” a reflective Greer said this week. “Those two plays really humbled me in a sense that I have a lot of work to do.
“I’m thankful that I was able to make the last play. But knowing how I felt about how much work I have to do, how far I felt off from my target goal, making one play in the end where everybody was making it seem like I’m a hero is kind of like, ‘I don’t believe that, man,’” Greer continued. “I appreciate everyone’s support, but at the same time I’m putting things in perspective.”
Still, if the Saints rally all the way back into playoff contention, that play by Greer is bound to go down in Saints lore.
“The big thing was he wasn’t having a good game before that and he holds himself to a high standard,” said safety Roman Harper, a teammate since Greer arrived in New Orleans 2009 from Buffalo and helped the Saints win their first Super Bowl. “You could see it in his eyes he wasn’t the same guy and we said, ‘Hey man, we believe in you. You’re our guy. You’re going to make the next one. Everything happens for a reason.’ Then he goes out there and makes the biggest play of the game. It couldn’t happen to a better person.”
Greer said he had recognized the Falcons’ formations and red-zone tendencies from studying Atlanta’s previous games and expected White to cut across the middle near the back of the end zone. Still, Greer said he found himself trying to recover after White made an exceptional break out of his cut.
“I noticed that he was separating at a faster pace than I anticipated. The ball was released and I saw the hopes and dreams of the city in the air,” Greer recalled, his smile widening as he spoke. “I leaped, stretched my arms out and prayed for a miracle.”
The Superdome practically shook in an explosion of cheers. Harper dropped to his knees in part celebration, part relief, while nickel back Johnny Patrick and cornerback Patrick Robinson converged on Greer to congratulate him.
“I felt the noise. I felt the excitement. I saw the looks on the guys’ faces,” Greer said. “When Roman went to his knees, when Johnny came and jumped on me, and P-Rob’s smile. That had the biggest impact on me.”
Greer’s ability to close out the heated contest heroically seemed to mirror the pattern of this curious season for the Saints, who are demonstrating resilience following the club’s bounty scandal and an 0-4 start.
If the Saints (4-5) win Sunday at Oakland, they will not only have climbed back to .500, but will sit only one game in the standings behind teams occupying the final NFC wild-card spot with six games to go.
Greer said he has drawn inspiration from seeing the way people in the New Orleans area handle tough times — everything from natural disasters to rallying around a beloved football team that has been struggling. One thing that stood out to Greer was how fans continued to gather at the airport to welcome the Saints back from the road even as they lost their first four games of 2012.
“To be able to play in a place like this is special,” Greer said. “So if that play (against Atlanta) was any kind of a symbol of the resilience of the city, than I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Greer, now 30 and in his ninth NFL season, has been a popular player in New Orleans. He has been among the Saints’ most reliable defensive backs in recent seasons. His outspoken love of jazz and his charitable mission promoting fatherhood have endeared him to fans even more. He said he still sees his career on the upswing, even if this has been a difficult year so far.
The fact is, this season has been rough for the entire defense, which has been adjusting to new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. It ranks last in the league, giving up 469 yards per game.
Greer may blame himself for some of that, but coaches and teammates still see him as one of the best players on a prideful unit that won’t give up on turning its fortunes around in time to get the Saints to their fourth straight postseason.
“Jabari Greer is a great teammate,” Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said. “Jabari Greer works his butt off every day and in every game to get better. ... He certainly knows deep down that we have confidence in him and trust him.”