Twenty-nine minutes of garbage time. That's good stuff right there.

Sure, Oakland blows. But so does Arizona, and the Falcons had to escape with a 4-point win against them in the Georgia Dome. So does Cleveland, and Dallas had to go to overtime at home to beat them. So does Camrolina, and Tampa had to pull off a minor miracle just to get to overtime. So does Jacksonville, and they took the 8-1 Texans to overtime in Houston. So say what you will about Oakland as an opponent, but a 21-point blowout win on the road — on the west coast, no less — which was all-but-over less than a minute into the second half, is a bona fide "statement win." And the statement goes a little something like this: Y'all better get the fuck up out the way. Because it's official, the Saints are back for real.

Perhaps over the last 3 seasons or so, a blowout road win over a bottom-feeder might have drawn yawns. But not this season, no sir. This season, especially at this particular point in the season, it's a pretty big fuckin' deal.

It'd be easy to dismiss it as "just a win." Especially given the quality of the opponent. A Do Your Job type performance in a game most of us fully expected the Saints to win anyway. The stat sheet was relatively pretty, but there wasn't really a whole lot about it that would qualify as jaw-dropping. The only superlative was the season-best yards allowed of "only" 404, and that's not exactly a number to dance a merry jig over.

Most of us would probably call it the Saints' most complete performance of the season, and that's great. But again, if one were so inclined, even that could be largely chalked up to the opponent being Oakland.

But Sunday's win was bigger than just an expected win over a weak opponent, and here's why: Twenty-nine minutes of garbage time.

That's really the only stat that mattered Sunday. And it was huge.

Because, while most of us expected the win, I don't think there were very many of us who thought the Saints had a 3-score blowout in them. Not this season. Not against anybody. Let alone on the road. Let alone on the west coast. I don't even know if the Saints themselves thought they were capable of it. This team is confident, sometimes arguably to a fault, but they're not delusional. And they hadn't produced one all season, after all.

Welp, now they have. And in a game that's 50% physical and 90% mental, where momentum and confidence and emotion and all that stuff is generally considered such a big factor, the importance of that shouldn't be underestimated. Especially for a team that's had to struggle and scrap all season, especially over the last couple months just to get back to .500 on the season.

It's the difference between knowing that you're capable of competing, of winning, and knowing that you're capable of dominating.

Those are two very different things. And you could literally see the difference with your own eyes right there on your tee vee screen Sunday afternoon. It wasn't even the least bit subtle. They were loose, they were having a shitload of fun, they were up to their eyeballs in #wegotthis. You could actually feel the weight of the 0-4 start and all the other 2012 bullshit just melting away.

Even at 14-7 with four minutes remaining in the first half (at which point I admit there was a very faint voice in the back of my head going "Fuck! It oughta be something along the lines of 21-0 right about now!") there was very little sense that the Saints were scratchin' and survivin' or anything like that. No tension, no nervousness. They were in complete control of the game, of everything, and there was a palpable sense that it was just a matter of time until the Saints choked 'em out.

As it turned out, it only took another 4:23 from there. Seventeen seconds into the third quarter. Hello garbage time. Nice to see ya, been a while.

That strong wind you felt was the entire Saints team letting out a huge collective exhale from the relief of finally knowing for sure that this thing is back on track for real. From finally knowing for sure that they actually are what they've believed all along that they are.

It's a type of confidence that a last-second escape — even against an 8-0 division rival at home — can't provide. It's just a whole different kind of thing. It's a chance to relax, have some genuine fun, swing your dicks around a little, and show off some bona fide superiority for a change. A chance to loosen up that sphincter a little bit and not have to scrap and struggle from start to finish.

Over the last couple months, Mike Triplett has written about the 2012 Saints' lack of "killer instinct" approximately one million times. The lack of an ability to put their heel on an opponent's throat and choke away their will to continue competing. It was back Sunday afternoon. Maybe not quite in full force, but close enough.

And that's why Sunday's game was much bigger than just a run-of-the-mill midseason ho-hum win over a 3-6 team. Because something changed Sunday afternoon, right there in the middle of the game. Something big. Something important. And you could see it happening, you could see the valve opening and all that pressure being released right there on the field.

It was precisely what this team needed.

Just in the nick of time too, with the so-called teeth of the schedule coming up over the next three weeks. Because we all know how the Saints play when they're loose and having fun and have themselves a pantsload of genuine swagger. They're a whole different team. They take it to a whole other level. A level I think we still haven't really seen this season, not yet anyway.

Something tells me we might be about to see it though. A whole lot of it.

Meantime, there's an awful lot of blood in the water around the NFC right about now. It didn't exactly work out in the end this week, because Arizona, Carolina and Cleveland are a bunch of chumps. (Thanks a lot for all the help, assholes.) But if you were flipping around Sunday, you saw how tight the Falcons' asses were wound up all afternoon. Five Matty Ice interceptions. At least two or three Mike Smith brain farts. You saw Tampa dead in the water with a minute left in regulation. Ditto for Dallas. You saw Green Bay struggle with Detroit and barely escape. And Monday night, you saw Chicago get their asses handed to them.

On the surface, it might look like the Saints just kept pace this weekend and that's about it. But it was a lot more than that. The Saints aren't just keeping pace at this point, they're gaining ground in chunks. They're really just now getting their shit together for real and are just beginning to really assert themselves, while the rest of the conference is just struggling to hang on.

It might not have showed up in the standings this week, but it sure as hell showed up on the field. It'll show up in the standings eventually.

Wait for it… wait for it…

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