METAIRIE — The New Orleans Saints have a recent history of starting seasons poorly and seeing them end in heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, fist-pounding fashion.
But in between, things have generally gone really well.
As they prepare to open this season on Monday Night Football against the Houston Texans in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Saints are hoping to end a five-season losing streak in openers and set the tone for a season that finally stretches into February with a trip to the Super Bowl.
Of course, no team picks up where it left off at the end of the previous season.
And neither recent success nor recent failure guarantees anything in a new season.
So this game marks a new beginning and the Saints are focused on getting off to a positive start for the first time since 2013 when they opened with a 23-17 win against Atlanta, triggering a 5-0 start.
Head coach Sean Payton said this week that the Saints “tried to look at a handful of things” to end the losing streak, though he wouldn’t elaborate. He did say “the routine this week has changed practice wise,” but that figured to happen any way since the game is on Monday instead of Sunday.
“Certainly we’re not going to just repeat the calendar schedule from the last few years,” Payton said.
Only five players on the Saints roster — quarterback Drew Brees, punter Thomas Morstead, defensive end Cameron Jordan, tackle Terron Armstead and tight end Josh Hill — have won a season opener while with the team.
“It’s definitely a focal point for us to start off fast,” said Armstead, who like Hill was a rookie on the last team to win an opener.
Second-round draft choice Erik McCoy, the team’s starting center, hopes he too can experience a victory in his NFL debut. He’s well aware of the losing streak even though he was in high school when it started.
“There has been a big emphasis on coming out strong just because in the past we have not been very good in first games,” McCoy said.
From 2014-16 New Orleans started 0-2, 0-3 and 0-3 on its way to three consecutive 7-9 finishes.
But the Saints have rebounded quickly and emphatically from their last two losses in season openers.
In 2017, they started 0-2 then won their next eight games on their way to an 11-5 regular-season finish and an NFC South championship.
Last season they bounced back from a season-opening loss to Tampa Bay to win their next 10 games on their way to a 13-3 record and another division title.
In both cases they were playing outstanding football as they entered the playoffs and won their first post-season game – beating Carolina in a wild-card game in 2017 and beating then defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia in a divisional-round game last season.
The 2017 season ended in the divisional round when a missed tackle allowed Minnesota to complete a 69-yard touchdown pass as time expired, turning an apparent victory into a stunning defeat.
The Saints narrowly missed going to the Super Bowl last season in a controversial overtime loss in an NFC Championship Game that featured an egregious missed pass interference no-call on the Rams that led the NFL to alter its instant-replay rules.
“At some point,” Jordan said during the offseason, “it feels like it takes a miracle to beat the Saints.”
But that point hasn’t been in recent season openers.
“It would be nice to start out in the win column,” Brees said.
But regardless of what happens against Houston, the Saints are generally considered one of the favorites to win the NFC.
Center Max Unger retired in the offseason, tight end Benjamin Watson retired then unretired and signed with New England and running back Mark Ingram II and defensive tackle Tyeler Davison left via free agency to join Baltimore and Atlanta, respectively.
Both mostly the roster is in tact from a year ago and there have been key additions. McCoy was drafted to replace Unger, Jared Cook was signed to replace Watson, Latavius Murray was signed to replace Ingram and Malcolm Brown, Mario Edwards Jr. and Wes Horton were signed to bolster the defensive line.
Last week the Saints acquired linebacker Kiko Alonzo, who led Miami with 125 tackles lat season, in a trade and cornerback Eli Apple, acquired in a trade early last season, seems to have benefited from an offseason with a team.
“It’s always fun to take what you’ve been working on from the offseason and the preseason and then apply it,” Brees said.
“Every year is truly a new year because even if you have the same guys, they’re at different stages.
“The exciting part is when you come to work every day and ask yourself, how good can we be?”