For Saints coach Sean Payton and his players Joel Iyiegbuniwe Color Rush Jersey , it’s a bit of a stretch to call their return to Minnesota a rematch.
Sixteen games have passed since Week 1, when the Saints needed a late, inconsequential touchdown just to reduce the Vikings’ victory margin to 10 points.
New Orleans has lost numerous players to injuries. Other players have grown into more significant roles. Chemistry developed, and coaches became more adept at playing to the strengths and covering up weaknesses of various players. The result has been a NFC South championship and a victory in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs.
”There are some similarities in regards to scheme. But when you go through the course of an NFL season and you look at the attrition that takes place, there’s – shoot – eight or nine of our (regulars) that were playing in that game that aren’t playing in this game,” Payton said Monday. ”You begin to take shape as the season progresses as to who you become.”
Seven players listed as starters in Minnesota in Week 1 won’t be playing for New Orleans this weekend. Running back Adrian Peterson was traded after four games. Six others are injured: left guard Andrus Peat; right tackle Zach Strief; defensive end Alex Okafor; linebackers A.J. Klein and Alex Anzalone; and safety Kenny Vaccaro.
In addition, tight end Coby Fleener, a regular in the passing game to start the season, is on injured reserve.
As Payton discussed the most striking aspects of the Saints’ evolution this season, he began by highlighting ”the amount of guys we’ve had to replace and the new faces that are stepping up.”
Payton complimented the way linebackers Craig Robertson and Manti Te’o have handled increased roles. Robertson has two sacks, two interceptions, five tackles for losses, a forced fumble and fumble recovery. Te’o has made or assisted on 62 tacklers, including seven for losses, and has a fumble recovery.
Payton also named tight end Josh Hill Bradley Zimmer Cleveland Indians Jersey , guard Senio Kelemete, cornerback P.J. Williams and fullback Zach Line in a similar vein. Hill had a touchdown and key first-down catches in New Orleans’ playoff triumph over Carolina. Kelemete, pressed into service often this season because of injuries, filled in at guard after Peat fractured his fibula against the Panthers.
Williams, a third-year pro who missed nearly all of his first two seasons with separate injuries, has two interceptions this season and saw increasing playing time in five-defensive-back formations because of Vaccaro’s injuries.
Line, who scored a short TD against Carolina, wasn’t on the regular-season roster until Oct. 4.
The contributions from such players have been ”the most encouraging thing,” Payton said, adding that ”the resiliency and the fight” of his team ”is something that’s great to be around.”
New Orleans’ defense, in particular, has played much better since the Minnesota loss, when the Saints gave up 470 yards and allowed the Vikings to convert nine of 14 third downs.
”We’ve been playing together for a while now, so we kind of know the strengths and the weaknesses of the guys. We know how to play together, we know where people are going to be and so we’re a lot more confident Tony Wolters Colorado Rockies Jersey ,” Te’o said. ”Week 1, we were a relatively young team as far as experience goes and as far as time together.”
Now, Te’o said, ”We kind of know who we are and what we can do and what our strengths are … and also what things we need to work on.”
Offensively, the Saints have evolved as well, particularly with the emergence of versatile running back Alvin Kamara, who put up regular-season numbers (728 yards and eight TDs rushing, 826 yards and five TDs receiving and a kickoff return TD) worthy of rookie-of-the-year consideration. His immediate comfort with Payton’s scheme precipitated Peterson’s trade to Arizona.
Meanwhile, receiver Ted Ginn, known primarily as a deep threat before the Saints acquired him in the offseason, demonstrated enough chemistry with quarterback Drew Brees as the season progressed to convert key first downs on intermediate routes as well.
”I believe that we are different. We didn’t know what we had in store,” Ginn said when comparing the Saints to Week 1. ”We messed around with a lot of options, a lot of different players, different things like that. But as the season went on, we kind of found our mojo.”
Sidney Crosby saw Jakub Voracek’s glove on the ice and wasn’t going to let his opponent pick it up easily.
Crosby pushed the glove away with his stick and reignited a melee in a good Authentic Josh Allen Jersey , old-fashioned Pittsburgh-Philadelphia playoff game that featured three fights, way more scrums and 158 penalty minutes. When Crosby was asked afterward why he did it, the Penguins captain responded: ”I don’t like them. I don’t like any guy on their team.”
Those were the days.
”It was awesome,” then-Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. ”If you look at it, it was wild. It really was. You had villains on both sides and people that hated each other.”
That was six years ago. Is a rivalry still a rivalry in a league that has made a concerted effort against over-the-top hits and where fighting is truly a rare sight?
NHL executive Colin Campbell once famously said the league sells hate, and at no time is hate more widely bought, sold, distributed and celebrated than during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The NHL’s divisional playoff format was brought back specifically to ignite old rivalries and create new ones, which has been a successful venture even if hate looks different than it did in the days of the ”Broad Street Bullies.” Playoff rivalries are no longer about dropping the gloves or laying out bone-crushing hits.
Teams now play fewer regular-season games against each other and are made up of more skilled players and fewer enforcers. Still, thanks to how tight the league is and the volcanic snowball effect of what a playoff series does to hockey players and coaches, rivalries might have a different look but they have plenty of smoldering intensity.
”Playing against teams with high stakes when there’s a lot on the line – win or go home – that’s how you have rivalries,” veteran New Jersey Devils center Brian Boyle said. ”When it’s us or it’s them, that’s how you find those rivalries. The same guys for two weeks, I think that’s how you build them.”
The first round in the Eastern Conference this year already has two old-school rivalries with the Penguins and Flyers meeting in the playoffs for the first time since their epic 2012 showdown, and Boston facing Toronto for the first time since 2013. In the West http://www.vikingsauthorizedshops.com/authentic-kendall-wright-jersey , Minnesota faces Winnipeg in the first playoff series between the two division rivals, which could heat up fast.
”The best thing about most of them are is the proximity to where they live, the close ones, but I think it needs a good playoff (series) against that individual team to create the rivalry full hand,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. ”Until you play seven games in 14 nights where you learn to hate the opposition.”
Playoff series in back-to-back years made the Penguins and Washington dislike each other plenty, and they’d meet again in the second round if they advance this year. Nashville and Anaheim developed a nontraditional rivalry with intense series the past two playoffs, making that a potentially combustible Western Conference final.
When Predators players think about those Ducks series and other tense ones over the past several years, they know there haven’t been a lot of fights – and they’re not alone. The past four playoffs have included a total of 39 fights. There were 46 fights in the 1978 postseason alone and an incredible 85 in the 1988 playoffs.
”You get the odd scrum that turns into a fight and stuff like that, but there’s not too much fighting left,” Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis said. ”You probably see the amount of blocked shots go up in the playoffs, the amount of hits – the little things that may not be on the stat sheet is kind of what I guess gets your team through the playoffs. It’s just little things like that that really is the playoff intensity.”
Boyle, who has blocked 113 shots in 106 career playoff games, has seen more fights in blowout games deep into a series than at other times because there’s too much at stake to take a retaliatory penalty.
”A lot of times you see a lot of other guys turn the other cheek in a playoff series,” Boyle said. ”You don’t want something like that to make a difference in a series.”
Making a difference is more about scoring a big goal than leveling a big hit or punching someone in the face. Look at the Penguins’ and Flyers’ rosters now and the likes of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin http://www.lionsauthorizedshops.com/authentic-da_shawn-hand-jersey , Phil Kessel, Voracek and Claude Giroux are far more likely to beat someone with a slick shot than their fists.
”I think the game has changed in how it’s being played out there,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. ”I think personnel has changed. But I think rivalries are rivalries. There’s always a heightened emotion associated with the games.”
So much so that retired player and former Penguins coach Ed Olczyk said of Penguins-Flyers, ”It only takes one player, one comment from somebody, where all bets are off and that gasoline tank will be ignited fairly quickly.” Crosby recalls more fights between the teams in the past – he was involved in two six years ago in the game he swatted Voracek’s glove away – but doesn’t want to downplay the intensity of this rivalry.
”You never know what can happen,” Crosby said. ”I feel like both teams are always kind of at their best, and there’s always a little bit extra in those games.”
Capitals defenseman John Carlson said he thinks playoff rivalries have gotten worse more because of what players can get away with, the physical toll ga.