No matter how bad things seem to be, you can always go back home.
That’s true for many experiencing difficulties in life. And it’s true for all NFL teams considered to be Super Bowl contenders who unexpectedly lose back-to-back outings to start the season — knowing they have eight games left where they play their best.
The Saints (0-2) fit snugly into that latter category this year. They’ll host the Vikings (1-1) at noon Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, still seeking their first victory of the season.
Evidence of the home-field advantage the Saints have at the 43-year-old stadium on Poydras Street in the Central Business District is well-documented. Yet it may have never been as pronounced as it is these days, early in the second campaign since coach Sean Payton’s bounty-related suspension and under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Many statistics illustrate this, but here are a few: In their past eight regular-season home games, the Saints have averaged 34.0 points and given up 15.6 per contest at the Superdome. Drew Brees’ average passer rating is a dominant 126.4.
No team through two weeks of this season has a better scoring offense than the Saints posted at home in 2013, when New Orleans at the Superdome was 8-0 — as it was in 2011, the year before Payton’s suspension. The Saints’ scoring defense at home in 2013 would rank eighth through two games this year, and only Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning’s passer rating of 126.5 would be higher than Brees’ from last year.
The Saints and their QB have occupied drastically lower tiers in the NFL rankings whenever they’ve traveled in the past calendar year or so. After starting 2-0 on the road in 2013, over their next eight regular-season away games (including this year’s 37-34 overtime loss at Atlanta and 26-24 defeat at Cleveland), the Saints have scored a relatively paltry 19.8 points per game. They’ve given up 26.3 points per game as they’ve gone 1-7 in that stretch. And Brees has a passer rating of 85.3.
That would give the Saints the No. 25 scoring offense and defense in the NFL through two games of 2014. Brees’ away passer rating would be 25th in the league right now — worse by a tenth of a point than that of the Titans’ Jake Locker, whose career record as a starter is 9-11.
All of which is to say the Saints couldn’t be heading home at a better time to face the Vikings, who’ll descend on the Superdome without star running back Adrian Peterson, deactivated indefinitely while he sorts through a child-abuse indictment in Texas. And the Saints haven’t been shy about how much they’ve eagerly awaited their return to the Superdome, speaking poetically all week about both the havoc the crowd noise plays on opponents as well as the inspirational powers of that building when its stands are overflowing with fans decked out in black and gold.
“It’s impossible not to go in there and feel like there’s not just 63 people on our team — there’s (72,003),” said right tackle Zach Strief, referring to the 53 men on the Saints’ active roster, their 10 practice-squad players and the Superdome’s seating capacity. “The fans — they deserve a victory. They deserve to go out and celebrate after and have a good time. And that’s what we’re working for.”
Aside from Strief, if anyone is familiar with how the Superdome brings out the best in whoever wears the colors of its main tenant, it’s wideout Robert Meachem. He was with the Saints from 2007-11 and came back in 2013. And he hasn’t scored a regular-season touchdown away from the Superdome in almost three years.
The six TDs he has caught since the one he had in a victory in Atlanta on Nov. 13, 2011, have all been in the Superdome — even the pair he hauled in during his year away from New Orleans with San Diego in 2012, on an early October night when the Chargers fell to the Saints.
“I think it’s our angels that watch over us — people who died in there during Katrina,” Meachem said. “That’s what makes it special: You’re playing for more than just a win. You’re playing for a city.”
A 17th straight regular-season win at home for the Saints with Payton on the sideline won’t resolve the very real issues that have persisted whenever the team has journeyed away from home. But the Saints need to get their season on track somewhere, anywhere — and they certainly don’t mind doing it at what has become a veritable fortress for them.
“There’s a passion that exists (in there),” Payton said. “It’s not necessarily the building itself, but who’s in it.”
Added running back Pierre Thomas: “We’ve got a good record at home in our dome, and we want to come off to a good start.”
Thomas explained he carefully chose the word “start” because, “It’s still early. ... Don’t count us out. It’s too early. It’s only two games. Come on, now — we’ve got a lot of games to go.”