They say adversity reveals true character.
The now 10-3 New Orleans Saints destroyed the Carolina Panthers (9-4) by a score of 31-13 in what was undoubtedly the biggest game of the season. A week after getting destroyed themselves (34-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks), in what was previously dubbed the biggest game of the season, the Saints bounced back with a masterful display against a division foe.
The defense showed up to the party early with a bend-but-don't-break approach, but it was the surgical precision with which the offense operated that truly did the Panthers in.
With veteran receiver Marques Colston playing a feature role and fellow veteran receivers Lance Moore and Robert Meachem making cameo appearances, the Saints made the Sunday night feature look, well, kind of easy.
With Carolina being the hottest team in the NFL after winning its last eight games, forcing the Panthers to give up a season-high 31 points means something. Doing so with the No. 2 seed in the playoffs on the line means even more.
With three games remaining until the playoffs and a lot of work to be done, the Saints played their best game of the season with the stakes at their highest.
Once the Saints fully figure out a way to bottle up the intensity they play with at home and take it on the road, they will undoubtedly be a force of competitive nature.
But for now they have to settle with just being the best.
Not a bad alternative, huh?
After last week's debacle in Seattle, some wondered if being destroyed on national television would derail the Saints' season. It was a fair question to ask as the Saints looked completely inept in a game of such magnitude.
But when you are a veteran-laced squad like the Saints and a true Super Bowl contender, you should never lose twice in a row.
When you are led by the two-headed offensive monster of head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees, there should rarely be a reason to panic—because you know you have two even-keeled professionals who'll never let you see them sweat.
Now that you have another consummate professional in defensive coordinator Rob Ryan at the helm, the Saints have the complete look of an authentic Super Bowl contender.
Very few people in life have the ability to perform at their best under extreme pressure. When you can form a team full of those types of people, you know you are onto something.
I feel sorry for the rest of the NFC...well, everyone not named Seattle.
Newton and Wilson are both built in the same mode (figuratively speaking, of course), as both can eviscerate a defense with both their arm and legs. After watching Wilson go for 310 yards through the air with an additional 47 yards on the ground, you had the feeling Newton was salivating at the thought of facing the Saints defense.
After this game, Newton was salivating from the inability to control his motor skills after the Saints knocked the stuffing out of him (fitting since this game was fairly close to Thanksgiving) for much of the night. Newton did better than Wilson in the rushing department with 48 yards, but his 160 yards through the air left much to be desired.
When you take into account Newton was sacked five times (seven QB hits) and pressured on virtually every dropback, you can easily see how the discrepancy in passing yardage was derived.
The pass-rush duo of Cam Jordan and Junior Galette, along with the rest of their constituents, looked like a pack of cheetahs chasing a gazelle at times. After letting the gazelle get away in the early goings due to poor lane fills as well as losing edge contain, the Saints boxed him in by forcing him backward and not allowing him to escape out the back door—so to speak.
Ryan had a much better game plan for the troops this time around. Here's to hoping the Saints see Wilson again—in the NFC Championship Game—so they can get their cheetah on with him playing the gazelle role.
Ultimately for the Saints to get to where they want to be, they will need to operate with balance on offense. Seattle showed that a great secondary can slow down the Saints' great aerial artistry, if not shut it down. The Saints didn't have another tool in the toolbox to get the job done, so they pretty much left it disassembled—to put it mildly.
But much to the chagrin of this column, New Orleans simply didn't need to truly establish the run to dismantle the Panthers. With only 14 designed runs for a total of 66 yards, the Saints did keep the Panthers off-balance just enough.
But when your QB can throw for 313 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions as Brees did, you have a shot at winning regardless of if it's with balance or not.
But one bit of nitpicking that may prove to be the Saints' undoing in the playoffs is their inability to convert in short-yardage situations.
The Saints had a 1st-and-goal opportunity and elected to go with a fullback dive instead of showing faith in any one of their numerous tailbacks. After getting stuffed on the dive, Payton proceeded to call two subsequent pass plays that failed as well.
For a team with eyes on the Lombardi Trophy, this is utterly disgusting. Gaining one yard in football is all about attitude. Calling pass plays in those situations is all about ego. It's time for Payton to put his ego aside and let his team show it has the attitude to get the gritty yards it will ultimately need to compete.
You can only finesse your way through football for so long.
The NFL is a tough place. A week after getting its collective butts kicked by Seattle's defensive line, the Saints offensive line had to turn around and face possibly an even better Panthers unit—on a short week.
With Brees being sacked and pressured numerous times against Seattle, one can come to the conclusion that the Saints hired another team's line in this tilt. Or they may have accidentally left the line in the airport prior to the Seattle game.
Either way it was the best showing by the line of the season—especially given the competition. Brees was sacked only once by a member of the defensive line (two total), and that was not by either of the much-hyped duo of Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy.
Both were neutralized by the much-maligned tackle combination of Zach Strief and Charles Brown. Coming into the game, most assumed Brees would need a deep tissue massage after Johnson and Hardy were done with him.
That was not the case. The adjustments the offensive line made were as impressive as how the defense defended Newton.
One hand washes the other, both wash the face.
Wow, did you guys see that player out there wearing the No. 12 jersey? He looked a lot like former Saints star receiver Marques Colston. He dominated the intermediate area of the field, found voids in the zone defense and scored touchdowns at will.
He even played with a physicality that's synonymous with being a bona fide No. 1 receiver. That couldn't have been Colston, as he's been on the back of a milk carton for most of the season—especially in big games.
This guy, No. 12, had nine catches for 125 yards and two TDs. He was, at times, virtually unstoppable. He was running Colston's staple of routes (slants, fades and hitches) and putting the offense on his back similar to how Colston has done for the majority of his career.
With tight end Jimmy Graham (six catches for 58 yards and two TDs) not providing one of his patented superhuman games, the production of No. 12 was a necessity.
To take it even further, there was another player on the field who looked a lot like Colston's former sidekick, Lance Moore (three catches for 40 yards).
Here's to hoping these two "new guys" show up for the rest of the season.
Corey White has had a rough go of it since replacing veteran corner Jabari Greer (knee injury) as the full-time starter at cornerback. In his first game in his new role, White was picked on by the Atlanta Falcons like a fat kid at summer camp. And his subsequent outing against Seattle didn't go much better.
But if his performance against Carolina is any indication, White has a bright future ahead of him—as this column has so boldly predicted. White has a knack for making plays and generally seems to always be around the ball.
White virtually pitched a shutout whenever he was called to duty. His performance against one of the better tight ends in the league in Greg Olsen is one to remember. His physicality, speed and ball skills are going to be tough for any receiver to deal with once White truly gets his feet underneath him.
His size (6'1", 205 pounds) and ferocity make him a great matchup for virtually anyone. The Saints may truly have found another late-round gem.
It's great to see another Atlanta kid making noise in the "Big Easy," similar to yours truly.
White may end up being the answer to the question of "Who Dat?"...
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