It was wild. It was bizarre. It was weird. It was Saints vs. Tampa Bay.
After watching the tape, I saw a game that was ALL over the place.
While it was thrilling and even frustrating at times, the Saints did indeed deserve to win Sunday against the Bucs. They outplayed them nearly all game and the Bucs were lucky to be in it.
Here are my five takeaways from the tape:
1.) The Final Drive
Sunday provided another classic Drew Brees moment. With 1:06 and no timeouts from their own 37-yard line, all Brees needed was three passes to lead the Saints down to the nine and kick the game-winning 27-yard field goal.
When I watched the tape, what jumped out was just how smooth all 11 players were at the end of each play. No one seemed to hurry, but everyone seemed to have a sense of urgency. Despite it being a very intense part of the game, nothing seemed chaotic for any Saint on the field.
The first play began with 1:06 on the clock. The second started with 47 seconds left. The third and final play began with 24 seconds left on the clock. On each play, the time between the player going to the ground and the next snap was 14, 13 and 12 seconds, respectively.
That's picture-perfect efficiency and execution given the time available. Even with no timeouts, Brees didn't even attempt a pass to the sideline to stop the clock. He simply did not have to.
The other layer to this is that this drive came after Brees played his worst quarter of this very young season.
Prior to that, Brees' fourth quarter numbers were: 2-7, 19 yards, one interception for a touchdown and a sack. Yet on the final drive Brees was 3-4 for 54 yards and the incompletion was the spike.
Like they say, great players aren't always great when they want to be, but they are great when they have to be. Brees showed that Sunday.
2.) Graham's Growth
He's always been explosive, but what we saw from Jimmy Graham on Sunday was someone becoming a complete football player.
Graham worked between the numbers beautifully, and Brees was not shy about going his way. He finished with 10 catches for 179 yards and a touchdown. Of those 10 catches, seven went for either a first down or touchdown and four came on third down.
He showed maturity after taking that monstrous and completely dirty hit by Ahmad Black. Instead of getting into an altercation or a major trash-talking match (although there was some) Graham responded on the field. Two plays later he went right back up the seam, caught the ball, and nearly got into the end zone.
Graham is at the top of his game right now. Just in time for a new contract.
3.) Getting Defensive
I can't say enough good things about the effort of the Saints defense on Sunday. They were severely undermanned along the defensive line and still managed to play incredibly well.
Rob Ryan had to devise a game plan without the services of Tyrunn Walker, Broderick Bunkley, Glenn Foster and, early on in the game, Tom Johnson.
His answer was a lot of four-man lines. That line mostly consisted of Cam Jordan, Akiem Hicks, John Jenkins and Junior Galette and mixed in Martez Wilson and Jay Richardson. He also rotated Hicks and Jordan a lot; some plays Hicks was the tackle and Jordan was the end on others it was the exact opposite. Richardson at one point in the game spelled Jenkins at the other defensive tackle.
Ryan also used some traditional 3-4 looks in their base package and some amoeba looks mostly on third down.
They didn't blitz a whole lot, but they were effective when they did. Jordan had the Saints' only sack on a blitz. Malcolm Jenkins got his interception off a blitz. I counted six blitzes total. Those plays resulted in Freeman going 3/5, 24 yards with a sack, fumble and interception.
Ironically, the longest drive they allowed all game was the final one, the one where they got their biggest stop. That drive was 57 yards. On their previous 10, no drive went longer than 43 yards. Not counting their final kneel-down at the end of the half, the Buccaneers average drive was 24 yards.
Given the field position of the first interception, it's fair to say the defense was responsible for zero points on Sunday.
4.) Missed Opportunities
The biggest stat that explained the unnecessarily close score was red-zone efficiency. The Saints were 0-4 inside the 20-yard line. The official stat means no touchdowns, but of those four tries only two resulted in field goals.
Six points in four chances inside the 20 is not going to sit well with this unit. They have too much pride.
The biggest came at the end of the first half. Four tries from the one and the Saints got no points.
Coach Payton took the blame, and he was probably right. Taking three points off the board nearly cost them the game. If there were a fresh set of downs, then taking the points off would have been the right call.
But the bigger issue is their inability to get in the end zone so close. The fourth down play was even against 10 players on Tampa Bay's defense.
In the third quarter, the Saints defense that got turnovers on back-to-back drives that gave the offense field position inside Tampa's 40-yard line. Those drives netted just three points.
Add that to the missed field goal and the pick six thrown by Brees, it's easy to see the points they left on the field.
5.) Ingram the Enigma
I've documented what I've seen on tape from Mark Ingram several times. He is the biggest topic amongst Saints fans for all the wrong reasons.
Sunday didn't help matters. He finished with eight carries for 20 yards. The Saints finished with 20 carries for 75 yards for 3.8 yards a carry. Taking Ingram's stats out of the equation, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles combined for 12 carries for 55 yards for 4.5 yards per carry.
We can debate what is done right and wrong all day, but the question must now be focused on the coaches and how long they feel like they can keep giving him opportunities. Jim Henderson and I do a web chat every week, and he made a great point. He said that the Saints front office is very smart, and they have to feel like despite Ingram's lack of success, they do not have an adequate replacement ready to take over.
We will see how long that lasts.
- Aside from a missed field goal, the special teams were outstanding Sunday. Garrett Hartley nailed three field goals. The game-winner and two from 40-plus yards. Thomas Morstead has become a weapon for the Saints. The average field position for the Buccaneers on Morstead's four punts was the 10-yard line. That's a huge asset when going against a fairly non-explosive offense. All but one of his four kickoffs resulted in a touchback.
- At times we try to figure out what's wrong with a certain position or side of the ball but fail to give enough credit to the opposition who gets paid as well. There was a little bit of that with Tampa's defense on Sunday. While there were some missed opportunities by the Saints, it can't be ignored just how good Tampa Bay's defense is. They are physical and active. Four sacks and two interceptions can't all be flukes.
- The "Revis Rule" was in full effect Sunday. Brees only threw two balls in his direction and neither was catchable. It was as if Brees wanted it to either be an unbelievable catch or for it to go out of bounds. He wasn't giving Revis any chance to pick it off.
- Speaking of INT's, chalk up the first INT to Dekoda Watson fooling Brees. He bated Brees into thinking he was covering Pierre Thomas then was able to undercut the throw to Lance Moore.
- Chalk up the second INT to Brees alone. I'm not sure what he saw. If he was expecting a different route, he would've thrown it earlier in a different direction. This was not a throw where he anticipated the throw one way and Graham went the other. In this case, Brees threw the ball after he clearly saw the route Graham ran. It was just a bad throw and bad decision that was compounded by the fact that no one could bring Mason Foster down.
- The Bucs were penalized 10 times for 118 yards. Two of their offensive penalties killed a first down and a touchdown.
- While it was Herculean effort on defense, I am concerned about the lack of bodies along the line. It started to show in the second half when Doug Martin really got going and rushed for 88 of 144 yards in that half.
- I was waiting for the offensive line to break out of its slump Sunday. I'm still waiting today. Brian de la Puente played one of his worst games since taking over at center. Jahri Evans followed up one of his worst games as a Saint with another dud. Ben Grubbs is simply not the player his predecessor was. On the play where Brees nearly got his head knocked off, Grubbs was pushed back on the snap. Charles Brown got away with two false start calls and was also beat a few times. This unit has GOT to get better.
- Heck of an effort by Galette on the Bucs' final offensive play. He didn't get sucked in on the play fake and pitched and forced Martin to the inside when he could've gotten the edge. If Martin makes the first down, the game is over.
- I can't recall a Saints game ever getting delayed due to lightning. The perks of an indoor stadium. Raymond James Stadium kept us entertained with rain-themed songs like, "Blame it on the Rain," "Purple Rain," and "Umbrella."
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