For opposing teams, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome has been a house of horrors in the Sean Payton era.
Payton’s Saints built a reputation for protecting their turf. With Payton and quarterback Drew Brees, New Orleans has posted two undefeated home seasons and a 43-21 record in the Superdome, and the duo has never lost a playoff game in New Orleans, going 5-0.
Until the final two months of last season, the Saints seemed almost invincible in the Superdome. But then New Orleans dropped its final five home games, a streak the Saints will try to break when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at noon Sunday.
Nothing changed about the Superdome’s atmosphere. The Saints place the blame for last season’s five-game losing streak squarely on themselves, regardless of the venue.
“What we saw last season was, whether it was home or away, we weren’t nearly as good or as consistent a football team as the prior years you are referencing with playing well at home,” Payton said this week. “It becomes much more noticeable when you have a handful of years where you don’t lose a home game, and all of a sudden we couldn’t win a home game last season. That was a pretty good indication of the type of team we were a year ago.”
The Saints, despite a 31-19 loss on the road at Arizona last week, believe this team is better equipped to take advantage of the home crowd.
“I think we have to be smart enough to feed off the momentum a crowd can provide,” Payton said. “We think we have a great environment, and yet we have to create that environment as a team. I am anxious to see how this year’s team responds to a regular-season home game.”
And that means getting off to a fast start. When New Orleans jumps on a team early, the raucous, cheering Superdome crowd can make life difficult for opposing offenses.
“I’d say that that was something from the previous five games from last year; teams jumped out on us early by a lot,” Brees said. “I think that was a lack of execution on offense. That was a slow start for us. That was not what we’re used to. We’re used to starting fast wherever we are.”
New Orleans has an added opportunity arriving in the Superdome this week: fresh meat.
Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Jameis Winston played in some big environments in college football, including a trip to Clemson’s notoriously loud Memorial Stadium. Winston, for his part, isn’t worried.
“I’ve had some good experience with playing in loud stadiums, so that shouldn’t really be a problem,” he said.
The New Orleans defense can change that. If the Saints jump out to a lead and the defense forces a turnover or two, the decibel level in the Superdome will rise.
“It’s an advantage, man, and we need to take advantage of it,” strong safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “With the crowd noise and the energy that’s in there, we need to make it, every time we play at home, it’s a for-sure win — like it used to be.”
The Saints can start returning the Superdome to its former status Sunday.
“The last five games of the year last year were an aberration in my mind,” Brees said. “It’s a new year. It’s a new team. ... And I really like this team.”