NEW ORLEANS - This was certainly unexpected--not the fact that the New Orleans Saints downed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but the fact that the Saints did so in crushing fashion, demolishing the visitors 41-0 Sunday afternoon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Saints defense played by far their best game of the season, shutting out the Buccaneers and picking off Josh Freeman four times and forcing a Freeman fumble. Will Smith and Cameron Jordan had sacks of Freeman. This marked the first time that the Saints shutout an opponent in the first half since the Saints did so against the Buccaneers on October 17, 2010. They held Doug Martin to just 16 yards on nine carries. They held the Bucs to 96 total yards in the first half. They forced five turnovers, all by Freeman. New Orleans scored 27 points off of the five turnovers.
Freeman suffered through an awful afternoon. Typically, he has been very good against New Orleans. He came in having gone several games without an interception against the Saints. Not on this day.
New Orleans played with a sense of purpose, like the team that had a real chance to make the playoffs while Tampa Bay played like it had nothing to play for. The Buccaneers have now lost four straight games. Like the Saints, they are going nowhere.
It was nice to see the Saints finally sweep Tampa Bay. They have clearly been better than the Buccaneers over the past several years but failed to sweep them.
Here are my quick takes:
**Jed Collins was questionable to play in the game but he suited up. Collins was injured on the opening kickoff of the game but was able to return.
**Drew Brees started red hot on the first possession of the game, connecting on 5-of-5 passes for 67 yards and a nine-yard touchdown pass to David Thomas. Saints receivers were open, wide open.
**The Saints defense immediately forced a three-and-out by the Bucs offense. A holding call on the punt return by Patrick Robinson put the Saints in bad field position at their own 10-yard line. Darren Sproles then proceeded to drop a perfect pass from Brees after the linebacker in coverage fell down, killing the Saints' possession. Sproles would have had huge yardage.
**Thomas Morstead had a 60-yard punt with no return, another 60-yard punt and two touchbacks in as many attempts in the first quarter. He had a 56-yard punt in the third quarter. He started the second half with yet another touchback and blasted another after the Saints went up 31-0 in the third quarter. The guy is such a weapon, particularly indoors.
**Jabari Greer came up with the big defensive play, halting an eight-play drive by the Bucs, picking off Josh Freeman on a pass intended for Dallas Clark. Greer was all over the route and made a very nice play on the ball. Greer later made a nice tackle on Mike Williams, stopping him a yard short of a first down on a third-down completion from Freeman to get the Saints the ball. In the fourth quarter, Greer completed his huge afternoon with his second interception, picking off Freeman in the end zone. The two interceptions are a career high for Greer. He defensed four passes and was in on four tackles.
**The "Gameday" Magazine cover featured Malcolm Jenkins, calling him a versatile playmaker. Jenkins was placed on injured reserve prior the game, ending his season. The Saints defense played very, very well without him. The Saints honored newly inducted Pro Football Hall of Famer and Saints Hall of Famer William Roaf at halftime. Wouldn't it have been prudent to feature Roaf on the cover, since it was planned in advance?
**The Saints had a nice 11 play, 74-yard drive which stalled, largely thanks to a false start on Jermon Bushrod from the two-yard line. Garrett Hartley kicked a 25-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with 13:23 to play in the half.
**Rafael Bush got his first interception as a Saint, picking off Freeman to kill a Bucs drive. He returned it to the New Orleans 49-yard line, setting in motion another Saints scoring drive. New Orleans went with Brees hitting Sproles on a two-yard scoring pass. Sproles easily beat the coverage of Lavonte David.
**Brees was tough throughout. He stood tall in the pocket, taking a pair of huge hits in the first half and completing passes on both plays.
**Freeman was awful in the first half. He easily could have had a third interception on a bad overthrow which David Hawthorne could not reel in. Had he done so, he would have scored easily. Obviously, the trend would continue in the second half.
**It was a rare moment when Brees elected to tuck it in and run it for 11 yards and a first down just prior to the two-minute warning. Brees made a quick decision and it paid off, moving the chains and sustaining the drive. Brees showed a quality feet-first slide to avoid any contact.
**Sproles returned a Michael Koenen punt 37 yards to the Tampa Bay 31-yard line with 1:03 to play in the first half. That set up a seven-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Moore--game over at 24-0 Saints at half.
**Brees was 19-of-29 for 216 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in the first half. He had a huge bounce-back effort, finishing 26-of-39 for 307 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He accumulated an impressive quarterback rating of 124.6. He extended his record streak of games with at least 20 completions to 50. It was his 19th game with four touchdown passes, surpassing the great Tom Brady in that category.
**The Saints had the ball for 19:16 in the first half.
**Tampa Bay gained momentum when Keith Tandy ran on a fake punt for 17 yards on the first possession on the second half. That momentum lasted one play. Isa Abdul-Quddus picked off Freeman on the next play on a deep ball, intended for Dallas Clark, suffering his third interception of the game.
**Joe Morgan continues to show he is a legitimate deep threat, he burned E.J. Biggers for a 34-yard touchdown reception from Brees to make it 31-0 with 9:05 to play in the third quarter. Morgan's average yards-per-catch is eye-popping at 41.2 yards per reception. Morgan later made an outstanding catch on a 27-yard reception from Brees in the fourth quarter. 27 yards? That is short stuff for Morgan. Wonder if Robert Meachem still wishes he was in New Orleans? Morgan later drew a pass interference penalty from Mark Barron on a deep ball, gaining 40 yards.
**Bush and Quddus were playing two-deep in the secondary much of the afternoon. They did a very good job. Perhaps it is the shape of things to come.
**Elbert Mack played well but was shaken up late in the third quarter. He went to the locker room.
**Jermon Bushrod left the game with cramps in the third quarter. Are there any healthy tackles on this team? Fortunately, Bushrod was able to return to the game.
**This was Freeman's seventh career game with at least three interceptions. He is in his fifth year in the league.
**Mark Ingram ran hard and was very productive, Ingram carried 14 times for 90 yards and a touchdown.
**Joe Vitt made the right move by inserting Chase Daniel into the game with 6:26 to play and a 34-0 lead.
**Greg Schiano made the right move by inserting Dan Orlovsky into the game with 4:47 to play, mercifully ending Freeman's miserable day.
**Jordan now has eight sacks while Smith has six, respectable numbers. Jordan is emerging as perhaps the best player on the defense, along with Curtis Lofton.
**The Saints became the first NFL team since 2001 to throw four touchdown passes without an interception while their defense intercepted four passes without allowing a touchdown pass. That nugget comes from our own Lenny Vangilder.
**The win keeps the Saints' hopes alive of avoiding their first losing season since 2007.
This was the first shutout by the Saints since December 24, 1995 when they blanked the New York Jets 12-0. It was the first home shutout since a 27-0 whitewash of the then Los Angeles Raiders on December 16, 1991. While it is too little, too late to salvage the season, it was very encouraging to watch. If there was any question about the team playing hard after being virtually eliminated from playoff contention by the Giants, the Saints answered in demonstrative fashion. There was even a pronounced "Who Dat?" cheer at game's end by the few fans who stayed until the finish. Now, it is on to the "Payton Bowl" at "Jerry World."
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