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Lots to be thankful for this SAINTSgiving

Zach Strief
November 22, 2018 - 11:11 am

Gobble gobble Saints fans!!  First of all, I want to wish all of the Who Dat Nation a very happy Thanksgiving. I think it’s very appropriate that on this day of reflection I share, first, what I’m thankful for, and second everything we should all be thankful for as it pertains to this year’s Saints squad.  Tis the season, after all.
13 years ago I was sent to a foreign land for work.  A place where the people seemed to speak different, live different, and love different.  It was a place that was brand new for me, and at times, just too different to feel right. There was the weather issue first of all.  I thought I had experienced a warm day before I came to New Orleans.  I was wrong.  I didn’t know heat, until I moved to Louisiana.  That took some getting used to.  

Then, there was the whole cultural change.  I was invited to a crawfish boil and proceeded to mutilate these tiny lobsters, never really eating anything, and being embarrassed to ask how.  It was a city where everyone seemed to have been friends since grade school.  While I found that to be awesome, it’s not easy to break into a group of friends that have known each other for 25 years.

Yet, as the years passed I started to find the beauty in all of these differences.  I realized that the crawfish boils weren’t really about crawfish.  They were about friends and family and being together. I learned that you shouldn’t be looking down at the crawfish, but rather looking up and engaging with the friends around you.  I learned to do the way. I also realized that while it could be hard to break into a group of friends that started decades before, you knew before you did, that you were surrounded by people who would be loyal to you forever.  I even realized that the heat was not… who am I fooling, I’m still not used to that, but nowhere is perfect.  

So as I reflect on what I’m thankful for this year, I settle on a pretty broad, but honest answer.  I’m thankful for the people and City of New Orleans.  I’m thankful to have found its culture, it’s love, and it’s acceptance.  I am thankful that it gave me my wife and my son.  I’m thankful that it continues to support me at my business, and I’m thankful that its people have embraced me in my role as the Voice of the Saints.  So, thank you New Orleans for everything you’ve given me.  
One of the greatest things I’ve gotten from New Orleans is the New Orleans Saints, and they are producing all types of greatness that we should ALL be thankful for.  Let’s start with the obvious.  

The Saints are 9-1 this year and on a 9-game winning streak.  It’s not just been any winning streak either, it’s been dominating, explosive and downright entertaining.  How much fun have you had already this year?  If you’re anything like me the answer to that is, a whole lot.  The best part?  We have 9 more games left before we win the Super Bowl!!  

I’m certainly thankful for how we got into this situation.  In 2017 the New Orleans Saints pulled off one of the greatest draft hauls in NFL history. I would know too, I was part of one of them.  In 2006, the groundwork was laid to win the Saints first world championship just 3 years later.  The draft class of 2017 may not take that long.  

I’m also thankful to get to witness the greatest season of any quarterback in NFL history.  It’s hard for me to explain just how good Drew Brees has been this year. I know you understand that it’s good and better than most other years.  But Brees isn’t breaking records, he’s shattering them.  

The Saints offense is scoring on 10% more of their drives than any offense in NFL history.  10%.  Think about that for a minute.  He is 5% ahead of his own record for completion percentage.  Drew’s quarterback rating is over 4 points above any quarterback in history.  Getting to see Drew Brees play in person, for all these years is worth being thankful for.  

I’m also thankful to have seen the continued development of the defense under Dennis Allen’s tutorage.  First, because I think Dennis is one of the brightest defensive minds in football, but also because it has come with so many players elevating their games.  Guys like (DT) Sheldon Rankins, who now has 5 sacks in the past 6 games.  Young players like (CB) P.J. Williams, who experienced some adversity early in the season, and has responded in a huge way.  His pass breakups at the end of the Rams game sealed the win, and he has consistently played winning football over the past weeks.  Even veterans are playing at their highest levels.  How about (DE) Alex Okafor?  I haven’t seen anyone talk about him in the media the past few weeks.  Did you realize that Alex leads the Saints in QB hurries and hits over the past 7 weeks?  Well, he does.  To see him rebound from a devastating injury like a torn achilles later in his career is something I’m thankful to see.  How about Mike Thomas becoming the most dominant receiver in football!?  Certainly, thankful for that.  

It’s not just the Saints that I’m thankful for this week, though.  I’m thankful for some things the Falcons have done this year. Maybe you think that’s odd to say, but it’s true.  For example, I’m thankful the Atlanta Falcons have no running game to speak of. They are currently the 30th ranked rushing attack in football.  Coming into the Superdome and playing the number 2 (by 1 yard) rush defense, is not a recipe for success.  

Another aspect of the Atlanta’s that I appreciate this Thanksgiving is that the Falcons don’t seem to have much interest in winning games in the Superdome.  They are 2-9 against Sean Payton in the Superdome.  How about their 29th ranked pass defense! I appreciate that about them as well.  I’m also thankful that the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead in the Superbowl.  Maybe that was petty… oh well!!
This probably isn’t the most professional piece I’ve ever written.  I can acknowledge that.  The reality is I spent 12 years learning to hate an organization.  As a player I also had to respect them, and I did.  The Saints will have to do the same thing today.  The Falcons are a dangerous team, and highly explosive offensively.  They have all the tools to score big points, even in the Superdome.  There are a lot of good players on that team.  That’s why as a player I always respected them.  Guess what? I’m not a player anymore…so now, I get to state the obvious, publicly.

We are a much better team than the Atlanta Falcons.  The Saints are on a mission.  They know they have no room for error over the next few weeks, if they want to force the NFC through the Superdome come playoff time.  The Black & Gold are playing the best football of anyone in the NFL and the Falcons are just the next in line.  The Saints will roll.  
Playing on holidays can be hard on players and staff.  I’ve played on Thanksgiving before and it’s not always easy to be away from your family on holidays.  What I’ve learned over time is, even on a holiday, we were surrounded by family and friends.  70,000+ of our closest friends will fill the dome.  When we walk out together, we’ll all have something to be thankful for. WHO DAT!

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