METAIRIE — After its 31-27 victory against Atlanta, cornerback Jabari Greer enjoyed a much-merited celebration Sunday, actually a little bit into Monday, he confessed later in the day.
But in the NFL, even the jubilation of knocking your biggest rival out of the ranks of the unbeaten has its expiration date — especially when it can be easily negated by not going into this Sunday’s game at reeling Oakland without the proper level of mental and physical preparation.
“Obviously this was a momentum game,” said Greer, whose fourth-down denial in the end zone of Matt Ryan’s pass intended for Roddy White was the biggest of a number of big plays by the Saints’ defense.
“But once we’ve watched the film, it’s time to move on. If we don’t capitalize on this momentum, it really doesn’t matter.”
The victory was the Saints’ fourth in their past five games. But thanks to their 0-4 start, they’re still a game under .500, and even with seven games remaining have a precariously narrow margin of error if they are to make the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
And it’s a measure of just how narrow that margin is that despite the Raiders (3-6) tying their franchise record for points allowed Sunday in a 55-20 loss to Baltimore, the Saints are only 7½-point favorites.
“I think they are a pretty aggressive, young and hungry football team,” Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said of the Raiders. “This is a game where we have to be on top of our game or else we will be really disappointed.”
Interim coach Joe Vitt was sending much the same message.
“If we don’t prepare for the Oakland Raiders the same way we prepared for Atlanta, with the same detail, concentration and commitment, it’s going to be a long day on Sunday, and we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Still, Vitt had plenty of good things to say about that level of preparation the Saints put into beating Atlanta. “We have a formula around here to win that we’ve had since 2006,” he said. “The win that we had yesterday was the direct result of how hard this football team has worked from Day One.
“They’ve weathered the storm, rolled their sleeves up, stuck together, not pointed fingers and have tried to get better every day. The byproduct of yesterday’s win has been this football team and this coaching’s staff’s character to just work hard and grind.”
It was an especially testing day for the Saints defense, which gave up 454 yards, the ninth straight time it’s surrendered at least 400. But in two fourth-quarter, red-zone situations, the Saints gave up a field goal after the Falcons had first-and-goal at the 5 and then made stopped Atlanta three times from the 1.
“It wasn’t the prettiest defense in the world,” Spagnuolo said. “But it was the grittiest. I said a lot of prayers, I can tell you that.”
Offensively, the continuing development of the running game, 148 yards after a 140-yard effort against Philadelphia, provided the balance that even a Drew Brees-driven offense needs.
“We don’t want to get into these games and be one-dimensional,” tackle Jermon Bushrod said. “We can’t have these first downs where we’re getting negative yards, because you know what’s going to come next.
“But when we can get in situations where we can throw play-actions or throw with three-step protection or maybe run or draw and just run the ball again for a few yards and see if we can get third-and-short, then our playbook is wide open. That’s what we’re looking forward to.”
Similarly, Greer said, the defense is feeding off the euphoria holding off an Atlanta team with as many weapons as anyone the Saints will face this season.
“The biggest thing about our defense is the resilience of the guys,” he said. “We had some unfortunate things happen early in the game (a touchdown by the Falcons on their first possession followed by a field goal when Brees was intercepted on the Saints’ first offensive snap), but the guys hung together.
“Everybody had written us off. But we never quit uplifting each other, not just as teammates, but as brothers.”
Vitt said the team will travel to Oakland on Friday, a day early, to adjust to the time change. … Vitt said rookie cornerback Corey White, who suffered a leg injury after his second-quarter interception Sunday, was being “evaluated.” Vitt would not elaborate. … Vitt on White’s comment that the Falcons “gave” the Saints the game: “That’s his opinion. He’s entitled to that.”