By: Bob George/
November 19, 2005

Patriots’ Malcolm Mitchell happy with rehab progress
Free agent WR Eric Decker says he would be 'good fit' with Patriots
Man charged with robbing Gronkowski's home arraigned
Buckley: What will Tom Brady do when he retires from football?
Tom Brady teases with Instagram comment

You've seen entire cities wiped out in disaster movies.

Where: Gillette Stadium
Foxborough, Mass.
When: Sunday 11/20/05
1:00 PM EST
TV National:
TV Local:
DSS: DirecTV
Channel 711, 945
2005 Team
Patriots 5-4
Saints 2-7
Latest Line: Patriots by 3
But in real life? Maybe a tornado here, a nor'easter there, but not a whole city. Even the worst earthquakes of them all don't devastate an entire city. San Francisco got rocked pretty bad during the 1989 World Series, but not so bad that the entire city was put out of commission.

September 11? That was just one city block, not to diminish the tragedy or the fallout.

You read all the reports and saw all the images of Hurricane Katrina. As it was developing, you perhaps thought "Aw, it's just another rainstorm. We see those all the time up here!” But then came the reports that had Mayor Ray Nagin ordering the complete evacuation of the entire city of New Orleans. Then you saw the visual images, and watched in horror as a major USA city was completely put out of commission, and one of the worst human calamities in the history of our nation was playing out right before your eyes.

Some of the ancient levees which protect New Orleans from surrounding Lake Ponchartrain (New Orleans proper is below sea level) breached, which combined with the onslaught of several days in a row of torrential rain, put practically all of this fair southern city deep underwater. And we don't mean ankle deep. We mean like the deep end of your swimming pool.

This widespread aquatic devastation led to thousands upon thousands of deaths. For those who managed to live through it, squalid living conditions existed for several days thereafter. Failed sewage systems turned the city into one huge stinkpot. Trapped city refugees steamed (both physically as well as emotionally) in the intense heat while government aid took its sweet time in getting there, which led to the exposure of FEMA as a flawed government body and the resignation of its chief.

One of the "shelters” the refugees cleaved to was the Superdome, the same venue where the Patriots played their first three Super Bowls (and won their first). The Superdome became a symbol of the execrable situation there. The dome itself had part of its roof torn off because of the storm itself. Inside, the place was a living Hell, as it eventually became overcrowded and a complete stench thanks to inoperable toilets. The place has been regarded as unusable since the storm, and there are those who believe that the 30-year old facility would be better off torn down and/or demolished.

So, you think that the New Orleans Saints care that much about their season? You can pretty much guess what their fan base thinks.

The Saints weren't supposed to have a good season. Head coach Jim Haslett was a lock to be fired at season's end. What the hurricane did, in the eyes of many a cynic, was to give the Saints a convenient excuse to have a bad season (wonder if Bill Belichick was thinking about this when looking back on the 1995 season and the impending move by Cleveland to Baltimore). Football down on the bayou was relegated to a complete afterthought.

To make matters worse, the NFL made the Saints play their first scheduled home game, against the Giants on Week 2, at the Meadowlands. The field was decorated for the Saints and the Giants had to wear road uniforms in their crib. Some solution. Giants won, 27-10. Good thing the Saints won the week before at Carolina, 23-20, in what thus far has been the biggest feel-good story of this football season.

Currently, the Saints are 2-7, and have lost 5 games in a row. They come to Foxborough for the second time this year, having beaten the Patriots 37-27 in a preseason clash on August 18th. The Saints last came here in the regular season in 2001, with the Patriots winning a rainy game, 34-17 in what would be the first of nine straight wins to close out that season, culminating with a win in Super Bowl XXXVI in the Saints' crib.

If the Patriots were not in the dilapidated state they are in, the home team would be prohibitive favorites in this game. Other than old friend Antowain Smith coming home, and the deep threat of Joe Horn, the Saints don't offer that much of compelling value. Belichick calls the Saint defense "big and fast”, but other than former Packer Mike McKenzie, there is no one of note on the defense you've likely heard of. 2004 first round draft pick Johnathan Sullivan is listed as a backup on the Saints' depth chart.

But because the Patriots are what they are right now, they are only three-point favorites. In reality, if the Patriots can pressure Antwon Brooks into a bad game with blitz packages and complex defensive formations, this is one game where defensive problems may not hurt them as badly as in other contests this year. Smith is familiar to the Patriots (Deuce McAllister has been lost for the year), and won't likely gouge the Patriot defense like he used to do for the Patriots in his younger days.

Does the Saint win in August mean anything in this game? Likely not, but it could serve to galvanize the Saints and make them believe that they could come up here and steal a win. The Patriots are only 2-2 at home thus far this season, the two losses being blowout losses to San Diego and Indianapolis. Combine that with memories of the preseason, and it makes this contest a lot closer on paper than it really should be.

This is a team without a home (as long as they remain in Baton Rouge, on the campus of LSU, it's as close to home as they can get), poorly constructed to begin with, and with a coach who by all rights should be on his way out the door. Hurricane Katrina still casts its pall over the Crescent City and its residents, and its football team as well. This game should be a slamdunk for the Patriots. But it simply won't be, can't be.

With reports of Matt Light and Kevin Faulk no longer being "out”, that is somewhat good news. With Randall Gay now on injured reserve, it forces Ellis Hobbs to start at cornerback opposite Asante Samuel, and to show that last week against Miami wasn't a fluke. Logic dictates that Light wait until a more formidable matchup before returning to full duty. Look for Troy Brown to see some duty in nickel packages on defense.

What New Orleans may turn out to be is a nice starting point for the Patriots to set up the remainder of their season. Unless the Saints come out like gangbusters and beat the snot out of the Patriots, Belichick can use this game to see if his defense can regain their past efficiency with a different cast, and to see if his running game can get untracked against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL (ranked 30th).

Of course, the Saints would gladly trade their problems for the Patriots'. A few owies here and there for them to get their city back. Nothing outlandish or anything like that.