Admit it--for 59 minutes, you were wondering who was wearing No. 9 for the New Orleans Saints. It rained much of the afternoon. It was raining hard on the Saints, who were blowing a grand opportunity to win on the road and get to 2-0 in division play and on the season.
When your best player plays his worse, you lose in the NFL. Fortunately, it is a 60 minute game.
Given a reprieve, Drew Brees turned into Drew Brees in the final minute and saved the day, along with Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles and Marques Colston. Brees now has 32 fourth quarter comeback wins in his brilliant career.
This one was worrisome from the start.
You had to be concerned at halftime. The Saints had the ball for 18:33 to just 11:27 for the Bucs. New Orleans had 239 yards to just 92 for the Bucs. Tampa Bay had seven penalties for 61 yards and you had just a three point lead at 10-7.
The Saints red zone offense was horrendous all day long. Tampa Bay, a poorly coached, undisciplined football team all day long, adjusted to take Jimmy Graham away for much of the second half, a sound move, considering he had torched them in the first half.
New Orleans won because Tampa Bay is a poor football team and because the Saints defense played great. When you consider the chopped up nature of the defense that Rob Ryan is fielding, you gain a deeper appreciation for what they accomplished. Thus far, the hire of Ryan looks like a genius move.
As for the Bucs, they have no idea how to win. They lost to the Jets due to a poor personal foul penalty. They lost to the Saints because they made mistakes all day long, waiting for the Saints to take advantage. They finished with 10 penalties for 118 yards. They even incurred an infraction when they scored the go-ahead touchdown, displaying a freshman college mentality with an undue celebration.
Here are my quick takes from the Saints 16-14 win at Tampa Bay:
**This is the fourth time in Sean Payton's tenure (7th year) that the Saints have started 2-0. In 2006, the Saints went 10-6 and won the division and reached the NFC Championship game. In 2009, the Saints went 13-3 and went on the win the Super Bowl. In 2010, the Saints went 11-5 and made the playoffs.
**The Saints are one of eight teams who are 2-0, along with Seattle, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Miami and New England.
**The Saints defense has allowed just 31 points in two games. Not counting the Monday night teams (Cincinnati and Pittsburgh), the Saints rank tied for fifth in the league in fewest points allowed. Only Seattle (10), Kansas City (18) Miami (30) and the Jets (30) have allowed fewer points while New England (31) is tied with the Saints. All of those teams are 2-0, except for the Jets (1-1). Can you say defense wins games?
**The Saints are a better team indoors but you knew that.
**This marked the 22nd time that Brees has guided the Saints to a come-from-behind win in either the fourth quarter or overtime in the regular season as a member of the Saints and the 32nd time he has done so in his illustrious career.
**The Saints had to play without Foster, Bunkley and Walker on the defensive line and Tom Johnson got hurt in the first quarter.
**Brees had very good protection on the first series to make the throws until Brian de la Puente got schooled by Gerald McCoy for a sack to kill the drive.
**Getting on top early was important with the bad weather arriving early in the game.
**The storm changed the weather dramatically. Prior to the storm, the heat index was at 102 degrees on the field. It was under 80 after the storm, with a temperature of 73.
**How do you handle a delay of one hour and nine minutes? Mature teams stay calm, handle it well.
**Malcolm Jenkins had a nice tackle on third down to force a punt on Tampa Bay's first possession.
**On the touchdown pass from Freeman to Kevin Ogletree, Keenan Lewis was picked off, had no chance to get near the play. Of course, Lewis was way too far off with the Bucs in the red zone on a compact field. You have to be tighter than he was. Lewis later made a nice tackle on Mike Williams in the open field to prevent a first down and get the ball back for the Saints.
**Brees appeared to check off on the 56-yard touchdown pass to Graham. The Bucs linebackers yelled to get to a different defense and Dekoda Watson, who had the big play earlier on the interception, was toast. It was the longest touchdown reception of Graham's career.
**The Saints got a huge break on the personal foul penalty on Adrian Claiborne. He led with his helmet. It was a good call, thanks to a bad rule. Hard to play defensive football these days, isn't it?
**Mark Ingram killed a drive for the Saints after the two major penalty gifts the Bucs gave the Saints (30 yards). He committed a senseless false start after Graham's catch put the ball at the 27-yard line and then made a bad run, trying to bounce one outside and got nothing. He later made a good run for eight yards but nearly fumbled, a play challenged by Greg Schiano, but the Saints kept the ball.
**Vincent Jackson stopped the next Bucs drive with a drop on third down.
**Zach Strief was flagged for holding, stopping another second quarter drive.
**Saints wide receivers got no separation in the first half. Marques Colston was the only wideout to catch a pass in the half, snaring two. Graham had eight catches in the first half while Pierre Thomas and Sproles each had two.
**Ahmad Black took an incredibly cheap shot on Graham. He could have been tossed from the game. Bucs are a totally undisciplined football team.
**Graham set a franchise record for receiving yards by a tight end--in the first half with 156 yards on eight receptions. He finished with 10 receptions for 179 yards and a score.
**Why is Ingram in the game at the goal line? He runs wide, stops, allows the defense to catch him, fumbles, but forward progress was stopped, losing two yards on first down. You have to take the ball to the corner, to the pylon. Of course, I hated the call. Inside the one-yard line, sneak it or run straight ahead. Then, he gets the ball on fourth down and does not score.
Elite backs get two shots and score. He got stood up on fourth down, no pop. Haven't we seen enough of Ingram? He is not fast, not quick, not powerful, no presence in passing game and lacks good vision. Am I wrong? Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles get the most out of plays. Thomas is a good one-cut runner and can make yards after contact. Sproles is fast, quick and makes people miss. I liked what I saw of Khiry Robinson in the exhibition season.
**I am on record giving Ingram the benefit of the doubt. He is healthy this year, which was not necessarily the case for the first two years of his career. I advocated giving him a shot to find out if he can be "that guy." Does anyone feel he is "that guy?"
**Sean Payton is the epitome of the coach who plays the guy who deserves to play, not the guy who is the investment. No team has done a better job of identifying free agent talent, along with drafting well in the mid to late rounds and with those players earning roster spots and starting jobs. Ingram was a significant investment, a player who the Saints traded up in the first round to get. Clearly, he is not that player. He may be able to play in the league but he is not that player. Clearly, the Saints have more productive running backs and they kept five on the roster. Clearly, it is time for others to see more time at the expense of Ingram. It was the second straight game he failed to convert a fourth-and-one.
**Deuce McAllister tweeted after Payton took the points off the board:
"I love the call by SP. It's a one on one battle. You gotta get low and find a way to get a yard." I agree, Deuce, but I don't agree with his choice of ball carriers. FYI--think Deuce would have scored?
**Would you have taken the points off the board? That is Sean Payton. No problem with it. Problem with Ingram being your guy. To add insult to injury, the undisciplined Bucs stopped the Saints with just 10 men on the field.
**You may have to forget about Patrick Robinson. The former No. 1 draft pick was carted off with an air cast on his right leg. Sad to watch. Robinson was in tears. You know it is bad.
**On the sack/fumble by Cameron Jordan in the third quarter which Junior Galette recovered, give the secondary credit for good coverage, forcing Freeman to be hesitant, holding the ball a second too long. Jordan was persistent. The target of frequent double-teams, Jordan plays hard to the whistle. It paid off. Akiem Hicks had pressure up the middle as well.
**The Saints defense has forced four turnovers in two games, a very encouraging trend. Of course, the Saints have committed three turnovers of their own, all interceptions of Brees. Malcolm Jenkins has two in as many games after getting none in 2012.
**Curtis Lofton had six tackles and was good all afternoon. David Hawthorne is holding up well. Jordan is solid. Kenny Vaccaro flies to the ball and hits. He and Jenkins had to play wide receivers man-to-man due to secondary injuries.
**Jahri Evans, the best offensive lineman on the team, has three holding calls in two weeks.
**How many breaks can the Saints get? The Buccaneers did not have enough men on the line-of-scrimmage for the second time in the game on Vincent Jackson's 73 yard touchdown catch from Josh Freeman. That is poor play, poor preparation, poor execution, a lack of discipline.
**Ben Grubbs killed a potential field goal attempt with a false start. Of course, the Saints were intent on running Mark Ingram after the interception. That led to a punt.
**Brees had to be throwing to Graham on the awful throw which was intercepted and returned for a score by Mason Foster. The two could not have been on the same page. There is no way he was throwing to Thomas, who had a check-down route and was wide open. On a check-down route, you know where your running back will be.
**Mike Detillier tweeted this during the game:
"In 2011 NFL draft the Saints debated taking Mason Foster in Round 3. They were on the phone with him. Instead, they selected Martez Wilson." Ouch!
**Would you have gone for it on fourth down if you were Greg Schiano, rather than trying a 47-yard field goal on a wet grass field with an average kicker?
**Speaking of Schiano, how much longer will you go with Josh Freeman? With a superb running game, led by Doug Martin (29 carries, 144 yards), he threw the ball terribly, other than his last offensive possession. Freeman finished 9-of-22 for 125 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a lost fumble.
**Brees was sacked four times, was hit eight times and was hurried 11 times in the game. Some were when he held the ball with no one open. Other times, he simply had no protection.
**Brees threw for over 300 yards for the seventh consecutive game, two off of his own NFL record.
**Balance went out the window in this one. The Saints attempted 46 passes while running the ball just 20 times.
**How much does Sean Payton like Robert Meachem? He told me back in March that he would love to have him back. He now has him and in just his second week on the team, he was active and playing, at the expense of Nick Toon (inactive) and Andy Tanner (cut).
**The Saints are now 39-3 under Sean Payton when holding opponents under 20 points.
In the final analysis, the Saints played as poorly as you can play offensively and won the game. Brees was responsible for all 14 points Tampa Bay scored. He had a very poor game and his wide receivers were covered most of the day. When it mattered most, he looked like Drew Brees, who made his best throw of the game on the 31 yard completion to Colston to the nine-yard line.
Still, there are significant concerns. The offensive line struggled much of the day, allowing four sacks and not blocking the run particularly well. Ingram is simply not what the Saints hoped he would be. That is obvious. Brees held the ball too long and made some bad choices. The massive injuries to the Saints defensive front and to Patrick Robinson are major issues.
Doug Martin ran for 144 yards on 29 carries. When that happens, you normally win, but remember--Josh Freeman is the Tampa Bay quarterback. Freeman played lousy until his final drive, when he was very good.
The Saints stole one they should have lost. Those can make a real difference at season's end.
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