The Saints started the day in Tampa Bay by going three-and-out, punting, and then watching the Buccaneers march down the field against their depleted secondary and score seven points. What wasn't clear from that opening drive was this: Those seven were the only points that Tampa would score for the rest of the game.
From the second quarter on, the Saints dominated Tampa Bay fairly completely, with forced fumbles, key receptions and a hard-hitting run game. The result -- 38 to 7, with the Saints playing their second string offense in the final minutes of the game to avoid injuries and to keep from running up the score.
Key items to take away from this one:
2.) The Saints won a "should-have-won" game handily over the hapless Bucs, which is better than the "should-have-won" games they've been struggling with in recent wins.
3.) Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas looked great swapping carries, leading to total of 183 yards rushing for the Saints that helped them pound away at the Bucs in the second half. In any game where the opponent gives them that much ground in the run game, the Saints will win.
4.) Brees was very solid after the opening drive and, while the running game ate up some of his yardage (187 yards passing), he never gave up the ball and finished with a 118 passer rating.
5.) No weird turnovers, perhaps suggesting some ball protection drills last week.
6.) Hilarious response by Mike Bell to the unsportsman-like penalty handed to him by the refs for excessive celebration. His palms-down "quiet celebration" of the ensuing touchdown run was gold -- and it suggests the Saints are having a good time, which can't hurt your chances to win.
7.) Darren Sharper is back. No I-N-Ts, but you can see the impact he has in the Saints defensive scheme. The defense looks dangerous and scary with him (and Scott Fujita, Charles Grant and Anthony Hargrove) in the game.
8.) +4 in turnovers.
9.) The Saints pulled Brees in the fourth quarter to avoid running up the score.
10.) And so on.
So, now the Saints turn their attention to a Monday Night Football match-up against the visiting New England Patriots, the strongest remaining team on the Saint's anemic schedule and the biggest threat against an undefeated season except, potentially, some apathy toward the end of the run. (And that apathy may be squelched by the run that Brett Farve is making in Minnesota, staying very close at 9-1. If the Saints end up with a worse record than Minnesota, they may not hold home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.)
The Patriots (aka Tropical Storm Hoodie) come into the Superdome after a convincing win over the New York Jets, including some dazzling work by wide receiver Wes Welker. The always dangerous Randy Moss is the other part of that duo, which is helmed by Tom Brady. And all of that is pretty disconcerting giving the fact that the Saints are so depleted at cornerback (having lost two more corners to injury this week -- Randall Gay and Leigh Torrence) that they're shopping for free agents this week. Fortunately, they've signed veteran Chris McAlister within the last week, but he's going to have to get into the scheme quickly.
So, expect the Patriots to score some points. The question is going to be whether the Saints can stuff the running game and (along with the crowd) fluster Brady with hurries and sacks in order to slow down the Pat's offense while, at the same time, turning in an excellent performance on offense. They're going to need "amazing Brees" standing back and taking advantage of his NFL-best package of offensive weapons. (That's as opposed to "anxious Brees" who pops up occasionally throwing the ball too hard to his check-down receivers and making mistakes that lead to ricochets and interceptions.)
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the biggest test of the Saints all year. If they lose, they're still one of the best four teams in football and have every chance of making it to the SuperBowl.
If the Saints beat the Patriots, then they're likely to go undefeated, putting them on a collision course with two other destinies with local roots -- Brett Farve's and Peyton Manning's -- which could well make this January and February the most exciting (sports-wise) they've been in years for our little corner of the Gulf Coast.
Here's a different take from up in Bawh-stun...Eric Wilbur thinks the Pats could lose in New Orleans on Monday, and then face the 18-0 Saints in the SuperBowl. His logic? The Colts tendency to "choke in the playoffs." Ouch.
- Todd Stauffer
Saints signed Mike McKenzie as another CB. Torrence is now on IR.
Yup...here's the story from down at NOLA. It'll be interesting to see how McKenzie is doing after knee surgery...it would be nice to see his recovery mean that he gets to play again.
That story also notes that if the Saints beat the Patriots and Atlanta loses or ties Tampa Bay then the Saints will clinch the NFC South. (I've read elsewhere that two more wins is a clinch regardless.)
- Todd Stauffer
New Orleans will lose Monday night. Brees will go down like a breeze. He will be lost for the season. Who is the back up quarterback?
Oh, Walt, Ima pray for you. You really ought not call on opposing players to get hurt.
Meanwhile, I hear the Pitifuls are starting their third stringer and just signed a QB off the practice squad.
Sow and reap, my friend. Sow and reap.
- Todd Stauffer