Each week Saintsinsider.com's Matthew Postins will analyze the top five issues facing the New Orleans Saints that week. In this opening edition, Postins analyzes how the Saints might use Deuce McAllister, why the Saints kept seven cornerbacks and if Martin Gramatica is the answer at placekicker. Click right here.
The Saints and Tampa Bay Bucs will play their regular-season opener in the Superdome on Sunday, just six days after Hurricane Gustav gave New Orleans a glancing blow.
Unlike Hurricane Katrina, which inflicted severe damage on the stadium three years earlier, Gustav came ashore along the south central Louisiana coast before heading northward. That spared New Orleans of a direct hit, which team officials feared when they relocated to Indianapolis two days before the storm struck.
On Tuesday afternoon, Saints and Superdome officials - in conjunction with city officials - announced that Sunday's game would be played as planned at noon CDT.
"We've got some exterior signs ripped and things like that, downed fences and light poles blown over, but nothing major," said Doug Thornton, vice president of SMG, the company that manages the Superdome and the New Orleans Arena. "There's nothing structurally wrong or nothing that would affect the interior of the building."
When Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005, high winds ripped a hole in the Superdome's roof, allowing rainwater to pour in. In addition, the stadium was trashed by about 30,000 evacuees who were stuck there for days without plumbing or air conditioning.
This time, New Orleans was under a mandatory evacuation order and the Superdome, a vital economic engine for the city for the major events it hosts, is no longer used as a refuge of last resort.
GREAT IMPRESSION: Saints coach Sean Payton was quite impressed by Lucas Oil Stadium, which served as his team's home-away-from-home in Indianapolis this week as it prepared for Sunday's game with the Bucs.
The Saints fled to Indianapolis just two days before Hurricane Gustav came ashore in south central Louisiana on Monday morning. It devastated parts of the state - including the lower-lying coastal parishes as well as Baton Rouge.
"It's magnificent. In my opinion, it's the nicest stadium that I've been in and I've been in all the new ones," said Payton, whose team practiced there four times this week. "It's fantastic. From the setup - No.1, you have panels on the end zones with outdoor lighting.
"The challenge with these indoor facilities is the lighting, but you get some of the natural light from the outside. I haven't seen the roof open, but it's fantastic ... It's great for the city."
CLOSE CALLS: Thirteen of the last 18 (and nine of the last 12) games between the Saints and Bucs since 1992 have been decided by a touchdown or less.
The Saints hold an 8-5 edge in those contests.
One of their most memorable games came in the first meeting between the Saints and Bucs after they were placed in the newly formed NFC South as a result of realignment in 2002.
They battled into overtime in the season opener in Raymond James Stadium and appeared headed to a tie late in the overtime period when Saints' special teams ace Fred McAfee busted free and forced Bucs punter Tom Tupa, who was kicking from his end zone, to abort the kick.
Tupa tried to throw a pass to a teammate, but the ball went right to Saints reserve linebacker James Allen. His interception in the end zone with just 2:50 remaining in overtime gave the Saints a wild 26-20 win.
BY THE NUMBERS: 13-28 -- The Saints' all-time record in season openers. They've fared much better recently, however, as they are 6-4 in their first game of the season since 1998.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We want to be one of the first ones back because we want to play that game and lift the spirits of our city after what has been a tough week." -- Saints GM Mickey Loomis, on playing the team's home opener as scheduled after Hurricane Gustav.
DT Hollis Thomas did not practice Wednesday and won't play Sunday against the Tampa Bay Bucs. Thomas will likely be sidelined until mid-October after having surgery on a torn right triceps muscle last month.
SLB Troy Evans, a special teams standout, did not participate in Wednesday's practice because of a sprained left ankle. His status for Sunday's game was unknown.
MLB Mark Simoneau practiced on a limited basis Wednesday despite a back injury, but his availability for Sunday was not known.
RB Deuce McAllister, who is coming back from double-knee surgery, participated fully in Wednesday's practice and will likely start Sunday against the Bucs.
LCB Mike McKenzie, who had surgery for a torn right ACL last December, participated fully in Wednesday's practice and should start against the Bucs.
DT Brian Young has been bothered by a right foot injury, worked fully in Wednesday's practice.