For weeks, the undefeated Saints have been talking about how things were only going to get tougher considering how they were going to be a marked team the longer their franchise-record winning streak went on.
Well, the bull's-eye on their chest got a lot bigger with Sunday's easy 38-7 win against the Tampa Bay Bucs. The Saints extended their winning streak to 10 games just in time to face the New England Patriots (7-3) in a huge showdown on Monday night in the Superdome.
Considering the Patriots have won three Super Bowls in the decade, it wouldn't be a stretch to say it could be the biggest regular-season game in the 43-year history of the Saints organization.
|New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates after the Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI at the New Orleans Superdome (AP Photo)|
That the Saints could possibly wrap up the NFC South title with a win over the Patriots -- combined with a loss by the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday -- has almost taken a back seat to the matchup itself with New England.
A rare appearance by future Hall of Famers Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Randy Moss, coupled with the memory of the Patriots' dominance in the 2000s -- not to mention their undefeated regular season in 2007 -- is more than enough to whet the appetite of any Saints' fan. But not to the Saints.
"From the outside, people have been talking about this for three weeks now," Saints right tackle Jon Stinchcomb said. "(But) this locker room has stayed focused on that next opponent, and that doesn't change this week.
"We've got a lot of respect for the Patriots, obviously," he said. "I think across the league there's not a franchise that has stood the test of time (any better). So we'll have our hands full just like every week."
That the Saints are still unbeaten and trying to do what the Patriots did in becoming the first team to go 16-0 two years ago isn't the biggest thing, of course.
Getting a chance to test themselves against the team of the decade and perhaps following in the Patriots' giant footsteps is something the Saints are striving to do.
"I think it's fairly common in business to look at groups or businesses that are having success and to pay attention to why teams are successful, and I think that exists in a lot of areas -- not just football," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "New England's been one of those franchises."
And there's nothing wrong with trying to be the team they've been.
"It's been one of those organizations that have found the right formula," Payton said. "There's a lot to that. When you play a team like that, you begin to observe from afar the things that they are able to do and how that really relates to or transcends to winning games.
"I think there are a lot of teams wanting to get to where the New England Patriots have been," he said.