Through their first four games, the New Orleans Saints were 0-4. Since then, the Saints are 5-1.
The difference between their abnormal start and what seem to be the true, normal Saints is five games and a .500 record.
Anyone who thought that the Saints had a chance at breaking even after their Week 4 loss was laughed at. If laughter wasn’t the answer, at least no one could have expected a .500 record by Week 11. Finishing 8-8 would have been a moral victory for the Saints after their start. Now, the only moral victory ends in a playoff spot and a run toward a Super Bowl in their own dome.
"November and December is when good teams start separating themselves from everybody else," linebacker Curtis Lofton told Larry Holder of New Orleans' The Times-Picayune. "We're just going to take it one game at a time and focus in. But no one is dumb. Everyone understands what's at stake."
There’s no doubt this New Orleans team is doing enough things well to be considered good. But the Saints can’t separate until they catch up a bit.
Starting 0-4 will put a team in a deep chasm. With very little chance at catching the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South, New Orleans must focus on one of two wild-card spots.
There are currently four teams ahead of the Saints in the standings that don't hold a division lead. The Green Bay Packers lead the race at 7-3. The Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are all one game behind the Packers at 6-4 and one game ahead of the 5-5 Saints and Dallas Cowboys.
While unthinkable a month ago, the Saints have a decent shot at the playoffs. So, what’s different, other than the 5-1 stretch in the standings?
While Drew Brees was always churning out yardage, he’s been much more efficient of late. Over his last five games, Brees has posted four games with a quarterback rating over 110. In his first five games he only posted two over 100.
The Saints have also been running the ball well. Sunday in Oakland, Mark Ingram led the way with 67 yards and a touchdown run, Chris Ivory added 37 yards, Pierre Thomas 30 and the Saints gained 153 yards on the ground, their second-best output of the season.
Also adding to the upswing in momentum is the Saints’ ability to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Saints registered three sacks in Oakland and have 11 over the last three weeks.
The Saints still have a long way to go to fully recover from their 0-4 start. But now New Orleans isn’t looking in the rear view. Everyone is looking ahead at what could be.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.