5 years later, it’s clear the 2009 Saints were a rare blend of talent
5 years later, it’s clear the 2009 Saints were a rare blend of talent, chemistry: Jeff Duncan
By Jeff Duncan, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune on February 08, 2015 at 10:12 AM
Lost amid the warm and fuzzy nostalgia of the New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV championship is this oft-overlooked fact:
Those Saints were very, very good. I’d argue they were even great.
They aren’t mentioned with the 1985 Bears or 1972 Dolphins but their accomplishments rank with the best teams in NFL history.
The 2009 Saints were one of seven teams in NFL history to start a season 13-0. That covers a span of 95 years.
What’s more, they were one of three teams to start a season 13-0 and then go on to win the Super Bowl. Only the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins and the 1998 Denver Broncos managed to accomplish the same. Elite company, to say the least.
Moreover, the Saints won nine of their first 11 games by double-digit margins, including five by 20 or more points. Think about that as you recall the 2014 Saints struggling to dispose of the Tampa Bays of the world.
The 2009 Saints were not the most talented team in NFL history. Not by a long shot. In fact, they might not have been the most talented team in Saints history. For my money, the record-breaking 2011 squad was the best Saints team I’ve covered. By the end of that season, they were simply dominant.
But no Saints team was more complete than the 2009 champions. They had it all: talent; coaching; experience; intelligence; chemistry; hunger; and hubris. They were dominant on offense, opportunistic on defense and aggressive in all phases.
“We were kind of a combination of all that,” said former linebacker Scott Fujita, one of the team captains in 2009.
More than any team before or since, the 2009 Saints maxed out their potential. Buoyed by a city’s motivational mojo, they brought it every week.
“We really were a complete team,” Fujita said “And we were extremely close. We had a special connection that year. We caught lightning in a bottle.”
There are countless memories from that season.
I recall a tangible sense of confidence among the Saints players and coaches during the 2009 offseason.
The Saints flew under the radar entering the season. They’d finished a mediocre 8-8 the previous year and no one gave them much chance to improve upon. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, perhaps the most widely respected NFL writer in the business, picked the Saints to finish no better than 24th in his NFL power rankings. Most of the preseason annuals picked them to finish third in the NFC South.
But the experts failed to account for the terrific offseason additions the club made, starting with famed defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
Moreover, team officials did a masterful job of making over the defensive backfield. They signed safety Darren Sharper and cornerback Jabari Greer in free agency and selected defensive back Malcolm Jenkins in the first round of the NFL Draft.
The overhauled secondary showed marked improvement from the start and was a major reason why the Saints set a club record with 39 takeaways that season. The Saints returned seven of those takeaways for touchdowns, almost as many as their combined total (9) in the five seasons since then.
“That season we were more obsessed with taking the ball away than any team I’ve been on,” Fujita said. “Guys competed for interceptions and fumbles during walk-throughs at practice that year.”
The Saints feasted on inexperienced and first-timer starting quarterbacks on their way to the NFC South Division crown. In their first 10 games of the season, the roster of opposing quarterbacks was: Matthew Stafford (making his first career start); Kevin Kolb; Trent Edwards; Mark Sanchez; Eli Manning; Chad Henne; Matt Ryan; Jake Delhomme; Marc Bulger; and Josh Freeman. Not exactly a murderer’s row of quarterbacks.
But the Saints defense proved its mettle in the playoffs when it knocked off three future Hall of Fame quarterbacks: Kurt Warner; Brett Favre; and Peyton Manning.
Combined, the Saints surrendered only two touchdown passes in their games to that trio of superstars. They intercepted them four times and limited them to a combined passer efficiency rating of 78.5, well below their combined career rating of 91.8.
It was an unprecedented trifecta. No NFL team has ever beaten three future Hall of Fame quarterbacks en route to a Super Bowl.
“I don’t know whether we belong among the best teams of all-time not but the run we had was special,” Fujita said.
Special, indeed. Since then, the Saints haven’t played defense anywhere close to the level they reached in 2009. And the further we get from that magical season the more special it feels.
“When we looked around we said, ‘Man, we’re at least going to do this another time,'” former linebacker Scott Shanle said. “One year goes away and you lose to Seattle in the wild card. The next year, San Francisco beats us on the road and you don’t have home-field advantage. So one year goes away, man every year in that NFL window keeps shutting. You don’t have much time to get another one. I think with every passing year I appreciate it more and more.”
Saints fans undoubtedly feel the same.
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