Needa. Musta. Haveta.
OK, so I cannibalized Jim Mora’s infamous “coulda, woulda, shoulda’’ post-game rant 29 years ago but the fact remains: The New Orleans Saints need, must and have to beat the bruised, battered and beleaguered Carolina Panthers on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
And they shoulda given all the variables, despite the fact the Panthers come into the NFC South showdown as a 2 1/2-to-3-point favorite on the road.
That Las Vegas spread says more about the 1-3 Saints’ current state of mind than it does the 1-4 Panthers, who are a shell of the team that waltzed to conference and divisional titles and eventually were upset by the Denver Broncos 24-10 in Super Bowl 50 last season.
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The Saints are an abysmal 4-11 in their last 15 games at the Superdome, this coming on the heels of an 11-game winning streak in 2013-14 inside the same venue. The 4-11 record includes losses to Oakland (35-34) and Atlanta (45-32) this season and losses to Carolina in 2014 (41-10) and 2015 (41-38). The 11-game home winning streak includes all eight games in 2013 and the first three games of ’14.
The Saints shocking inability to defend their home turf can be traced back to the midway point of the 2014 season when they posted consecutive primetime wins over Green Bay at home on Sunday night and at Carolina on Thursday night.
That left them at 4-4 and seemingly poised to make a strong push going into November with three consecutive home games against San Francisco, Cincinnati and Baltimore.
Coulda, woulda, shoulda.
They lost all three games and finished 7-9.
A similar el foldo occurred last season. After clawing back to 4-4 with three straight wins, the Saints promptly lost four in a row (two at home) and finished 7-9. They haven’t sniffed the rarified air above .500 since the 2013 season.
And the Black and Gold won’t sneak above .500 this season unless they get their act together on defense. They continue to rank at or near the bottom of the league rankings in many of the defining statistical categories, most notably points per game (32.5).
And yet there is hope.
They are well rested and determined to build on an improbable road win against the snakebit San Diego Chargers in Week 4, 35-34.
The Panthers are coming off a short week, still reeling from a 17-14 loss at home as time expired to Tampa Bay on Monday night.
Yes, the Panthers are expected to get back concussed quarterback Cam Newton and bellcow running back Jonathan Stewart, who has missed the past three games (all losses) with an injured hamstring.
But Saints quarterback Drew Brees should have a field day against a brittle Panthers’ secondary that got shredded for 503 yards passing by Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan with 300 of those yards going to wide receiver Julio Jones.
The trip back to relevancy has to begin somewhere.
If not now for Sean Payton’s team, then when?