The Saints have hosted “Sunday Night Football” six times with Drew Brees at quarterback. They’ve never lost.
A Green Bay Packers team that has won its past four games; leads the league by having taken the ball away 10 more times than it has given it away; and whose quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, is on pace to throw an incomprehensible 41 touchdowns to just two interceptions will test that streak like few can when they visit the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday night.
In fact, if anyone can snap that run — as well as the 19-game home winning streak (including the playoffs) the Saints are on with coach Sean Payton on the sideline — it’s the Packers.
That’s why the Saints (2-4) more than ever said they will need those with tickets to Sunday’s game to tilt the numbers in their favor: as in 73,000-plus Saints supporters decked out in all black against the 46 players in green and yellow.
“Our fan base here, especially at night games, is something else,” Payton said as his team began preparing for the Packers (5-2). “We’ll need everyone ... helping us Sunday.”
Rank Packers coach Mike McCarthy at the top of the list of those who have experienced how much the Superdome can agitate visitors and how much it can make the home team believe it’s invincible.
He has been on both sides of the situation.
When he was the offensive coordinator for the Saints from 2000-04, McCarthy dialed up the plays during the first postseason victory in franchise history, when New Orleans beat St. Louis at home 31-28. The Saints took a 31-7 lead with 11:57 to go in the fourth quarter after receiver Willie Jackson’s third touchdown catch, and McCarthy this week recalled, “I just never heard anything like that as far as the crowd noise in my life. I still probably haven’t. (It is) a great place to play.”
McCarthy was on the other end of the Saints crowd’s cheers in 2008, when in his third year in Green Bay the Packers were blown out 51-29 at the Superdome by a New Orleans team that would finish the season 8-8. It was one of the 18 victories the Saints have registered at home in 21 prime-time outings since 2006 (playoffs included), when Brees and Payton arrived in New Orleans, which has won its past 13 straight evening games at the Superdome.
“We’re just talking about coming down to the environment that we haven’t been down to since ’08,” said McCarthy, whose Packers are 2-2 against the Saints and 1-1 in New Orleans. “We remember what happened in ’08.”
Rodgers described it best: “They put a whooping on us, and it was a loud whooping. That place was rocking.”
Throughout the Saints’ prime-time unbeaten streak at home, the man most responsible for raising the crowd volume in the Superdome to deafening levels is Brees. He has completed 72.4 percent of his 496 passes for 4,269 yards, 43 touchdowns and a paltry four interceptions in 13 games — numbers that people playing a video game on the easiest setting would struggle to match.
“Any time you play on prime time, you are the only game on television, and it is an honor to be chosen in that slot,” Brees said. “You certainly feel like you want to kind of back up the reason for them putting you on. At home, for obvious reasons, it’s the Dome, it is our home, it is our fan base and it is the Who Dat Nation — and I know they take great pride in it as well.”
Brees’ play this year hasn’t been as dominant as it has been in the primetime home winning streak. Though he has thrown 11 touchdowns, he has been intercepted seven times. Some were at key junctures in three New Orleans losses that were by fewer than three points. Even in one of their wins, Brees’ interceptions forced the Saints to go into overtime.
But Sunday night will be the first time Brees plays in the building and at the time of day when he and his teammates have been at their best. And there’s nobody in the NFL who can count on having an easy go of it in those circumstances — not even Rodgers and his Packers.
“It just seems to click for us in there at night,” right tackle Zach Strief said. “It’s certainly (always) a great place to play ... (but fans are) always more into it for a night game. It just seems to be a little more ramped up for this.”
The world will soon learn whether that marks the difference between the Saints improving to 3-4 with nine games left this season — or dropping to 2-5.