Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws a pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) as New Orleans Saints defensive back Roman Harper (41) closes in during a joint NFL football practice in Foxborough, Mass., Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
The Saints can learn a lot from the New England Patriots, against whom they will play a pre-season game Thursday night on FOX 8.
About football? Sure. The Pats are a great franchise which has accomplished great things. They have a great, albeit stoic, head coach in Bill Belichick. They boast an elite quarterback in Tom Brady. They have earned hardware.
The Saints have made their bacon as well, and the best is perhaps yet to come. But the most important thing New Orleans can learn from their opponents is how to overcome adversity.
Case in point: Spygate. Back in 2007, the Pats were busted for sneaking peaks at the Jets coaching staff and stealing signals. Commissioner Roger Goodell threw the book at them. He fined Belichick $500,000, the max allowable under the rules. The team was fined $250,000. They were also stripped of their first round draft choice in 2008.
But, consider the team's reaction to all this unprecedented, although self-imposed, adversity.
The team ran the regular season table at 16-0. In fact, New England was perfect right up until its Super Bowl loss to the Giants. Their post-Spygate record of 48-16 is the best in football over that time period. The Saints are tied for second place with the Steelers at 45-19.
The Pats truly turned lemons into lemonade, and there's no reason the Saints can't do the same. They have been decimated by the bounty scandal. Their head coach, Sean Payton, is suspended for the season. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt starts serving his six-game suspension at the beginning of the regular season. Who knows who will be tapped to take Vitt's place? General manager Mickey Loomis is out for eight games. Defensive captains Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith are out for the year and for four games, respectively. Not to mention the cool half million the team was fined, and the sullied reputation.
Guilt or innocence doesn't much matter here. The commissioner ruled as he ruled, and that will stand unless the court changes that during the course of Vilma's defamation lawsuit against Goodell changes the landscape. The key is the Saints must find a way to use the scandal to their own benefit. They, like the Patriots, have to take the fact that others don't think they can survive this mess they're in -- by thriving through it.
As Payton's oversized poster screams from the Metairie indoor training facility, "Do your job".
It really is that simple. One play at a time. One series at a time. One game at a time. One win at a time.
And, somehow in the back of the team's collective mind, they need to see the end goal. To become the first team in NFL history to host and win a Super Bowl in their home building. That parade would make Mardi Gras look like a Maypole dance.
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