New Orleans, La - At times they were spectacular. Other times, like the final play, it was scary.
But despite the wide range of emotions, the Saints still left Raymond James Stadium with their second victory of the season.
It's a game I truly believe the Saints would have found a way to lose during the first four weeks of the season.
But on Sunday, they found a way to win.
Let's break it all down.
Final Play Chaos
I consider myself more knowledgeable than most on NFL rules and I had no idea this rule existed. Yes, I knew the out of bounds to come back in was illegal. But I did not know a defender could push a receiver once a quarterback leaves the pocket. Now that I think about it, it makes perfect sense since the quarterback is now a potential runner thus making the receiver a potential blocker.
Luckily I don't play for the Saints defense. And the ones that do knew exactly what they were doing.
When I watched the play over again, it's amazing that Patrick Robinson was able to stay on his feet. It appeared he and Mike Williams got tangled up two yards in the end zone and Robinson almost fell.
Secondly, I'm still not convinced Robinson ever saw Josh Freeman leave the pocket. By the time Freeman rolled out, Robinson's eyes were squarely on Williams. That means Robinson basically guessed that Freeman left the pocket and wisely shoved Williams out of bounds.
Robinson knew exactly what the call was as he looked to the official right as Williams caught the ball.
Credit the officials as well for making a quick, decisive and accurate call of a pretty obscure rule in a very emotional part of the game.
Would you have trusted the replacement referees to make the same clear cut decision?
Malcolm Jenkins has been ripped for his lack of play-making skills all season long (and I've been one to criticize him often) but chasing down Vincent Jackson while he was on his way to a clear touchdown is the reason why Jenkins is a respected team leader and captain.
Frankly, he saved the game with that play. And one made with pure hustle.
First off, Jackson almost didn't catch the ball. After him, Robinson and Harper went up for the ball, someone tipped it and Jackson had to reel it in off the bounce.
Secondly, Jenkins wasn't even in the picture when he chased down Jackson. He was on the other hash-mark when he began his sprint.
The hustle jacked up the rest of the defense and they responded with their best sequence of football all season with a goal line stand that was pure will.
Three straight run plays by Lagarrette Blount resulted in zero yards. Then after thinking run first, Cam Jordan recovered on the fourth down play action pass to chase down Freeman. Roman Harper recovered quickly as well to guard the tight end.
It truly was a team effort. That was made possible by the hustle of Jenkins.
When the final box score shows they gave up over 500 yards of total offense and 28 points, it would be easy to call this defense a discombobulated, porous unit.
I can't and won't do it.
In fact, I think this defense showed a lot of growth on Sunday.
They didn't play great all game but they played great at the right time and complemented the Saints offense all game long.
Consider this... the Saints offense scored five touchdowns. With the exception of the first one, the defense forced a punt on the drive following each touchdown. When the Saints offense was at their best; the Saints defense was also at theirs.
This was especially beneficial in the second quarter (which we'll go into detail later) when Drew Brees was on fire. After every touchdown, the Saints defense gave the ball right back to the offense and it helped close two separate 14-point deficits and give them the halftime lead.
While they did give up a score in the fourth quarter that cut the lead to seven. They made the Bucs really work for it. Tampa Bay got into the red zone with 8:22 remaining. They didn't punch it in the end zone until the 4:10 mark of the fourth quarter.
It took them 15 plays and 4:12 to score a touchdown once they crossed the 20-yard line. Think about how valuable that time would have been for the Bucs at the end of the game.
2nd quarter Explosion
The first, third and fourth quarters were competitive. But the second quarter was the difference in the game for the Saints.
Brees got on fire and never let up.
He threw an incompletion on his first pass of the quarter then connected on his next 13 throws. He hit seven different receivers for 221 yards, three touchdowns and converted four straight 3rd downs.
The 21 points was the highest scoring outpoint in a quarter this season. Once the Saints took the lead at halftime, 28-21, they never lost it again.
- Welcome back Lance Moore. Nine catches, 121 yards and six third down conversions. After a couple weeks of uncharacteristic drops, Mr. Reliable is back.
- By my count, Jonathan Vilma played 15 snaps on Sunday and was fairly well but not perfect. He had a near interception and a quarterback hit but also missed a tackle that resulted in a Buccaneers' first down. I was curious going into the game where Vilma would get his reps. He got them mostly in nickel situations on the outside with Curtis Lofton in the middle. On a side note, that was easily the most I've ever seen Vilma rush the passer in a game.
- I commend the Saints for their commitment to the run. They reached their 20-carry benchmark and, as usually is the case, they won the game. But the total yardage is still a problem. As I watched the tape the thing that really stood out were the negative runs. I counted four that resulted in -12 yards. If those runs get back to the line of scrimmage, the final stat line would have read 26 carries for 93 yards for a 3.5 average as opposed to 81 yards for a 3.1 average.
- Staying with the run theme, for the first time all season, the Saints had ideal conditions to run the ball in the fourth quarter. They attempted to take advantage of the opportunity with six rushes on their nine fourth quarter plays. Those rushes resulted in 14 yards. They ran it twice on third and short and converted one first down. Not the kind of dominance the team was looking for in that situation.
- It's amazing with all that happened in that game Sunday that the most popular topic among fans in Jim Henderson and I's web chat on Monday night was Mark Ingram. The honeymoon is clearly over for Ingram in the eyes of the Who Dat Nation. Ingram was once again pedestrian Sunday. He finished with seven carries for 21 yards. To be fair, Ingram is clearly the Saints short-yardage back so yards per carry is not the best indicator of his effectiveness. I prefer to judge him on first downs converted and touchdowns scored. On Sunday he had no touchdowns and converted two first downs. One of those came on third down in the fourth quarter. What's become clear to me is how effective Ingram is when he is in the game and DOESN'T get the ball. Once again, the Saints used him in play action and once again it resulted in big plays. The Saints ran three play action fakes to Ingram, one resulted in a short gain, one resulted in a 39-yard completion to Devery Henderson and one resulted in a 17-yard completion to Marques Colston. Still, he's a former Heisman trophy winner and a first round pick. His best contribution should not be as a decoy.
- Kudos to Aaron Kromer. He took an incredibly difficult situation and kept the team afloat. After the Kansas City loss, the season could've gotten really ugly but it never did. He believed in the message and the team. All the while, the team gotten better each and every week. After six games, Joe Vitt takes over a team where the arrow is pointing up. I hope this helps Kromer get a head coaching job of his own someday.
- Greg Schiano needs to realize this is the NFL. There are just certain things you shouldn't do. The kneel-down play against New York was ridiculous. The crazy shift to try to force the Saints offside on the field goal was not only illegal but bush-league too. This is the NFL, where the professionals play and coach, Schiano really needs to start acting like it.
-Ridiculous play by Joe Morgan to stay on his feet and score. Now please stop retweeting fans tweets to you about it.
- I thought Cam Jordan had the best high-top fade in the NFL. Until I saw Bucs WR Tiquan Underwood. That was incredibly high and perfectly square. Fred Hickman, circa 1991, would definitely be proud.
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