10 Best Performances of New Orleans Saints' 2013-14 Season
Despite their forgettable outing in St. Louis last Sunday, the New Orleans Saints are still very much in contention for a 12-win season, and they’ve turned in some great performances in their 2013 campaign.
The Saints are 10-4 and in play for another NFC South title as well as the No. 2 seed in the conference's playoff bracket.
Since coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees arrived in 2006, the Saints have obliterated numerous offensive records.
What makes this season different from most others in the Payton-Brees era, however, is that some of the Saints’ better performances have come on the defensive side of the ball, as new coordinator Rob Ryan has orchestrated a true turnaround from last season.
Most of New Orleans' best performances this year are highlighted with impressive statistics, and the more prolific the numbers, the better the ranking on this list. A few other efforts, meanwhile, weren't as quantifiable and were simply great displays of football being played at the highest level.
Following, in descending order, are the ten best performances of the Saints’ 2013 season.
10. Mark Ingram vs. Dallas Cowboys
When New Orleans traded up into the first round in 2011 to draft former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, many Saints fans felt as if the final piece to the team’s struggling running game had just been acquired.
Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case, and Ingram’s career has failed to pan out the way many fans and draft analysts had expected.
Against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 10, however, it was as if the burdensome restraints on the former Alabama star’s career were suddenly loosened. Ingram ripped through the Dallas defense for a career-high 145 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries.
He displayed the power, vision and quickness that helped earn him a high selection in the draft, and he also benefited from solid blocking by the New Orleans offensive line, which has been a rarity this season.
9. Jimmy Graham vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With Patriots All-Pro Rob Gronkowski sidelined with a lingering injury, Graham staked an early-season claim to the title of best tight end in football.
With Brees and the offense struggling to put points on the board, Graham did more than his part, catching 10 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown in Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Saints were forced to scratch and claw for four quarters, as the host Bucs battled fiercely to prevent their season from beginning with two straight losses. New Orleans pulled out a 16-14 win on a field goal as time expired, and Graham was one of the key contributors to the victory.
His 56-yard first-quarter touchdown reception would be the only time the Saints reached the end zone. Despite receiving a vicious hit later in the game from Tampa Bay safety Ahmad Black, Graham demonstrated toughness, resolve and superior athleticism against the outmanned Bucs secondary.
8. Marques Colston vs. Carolina Panthers
Prior to the recent emergence of Graham, Colston was Brees’ go-to receiver. The duo perfected the seemingly indefensible back-shoulder throw, which combined Brees’ timing and accuracy with Colston’s awareness, size, body control and hands.
Colston’s numbers have tapered off a bit this season, as he had only one 100-yard receiving game prior to the all-important Sunday night clash with the Carolina Panthers in Week 14.
Colston was unleashed against the Panthers, catching nine balls for 125 yards and two touchdowns, all of which are season highs for the former seventh-round draft choice out of Hofstra. He terrorized the Carolina defensive secondary all game long, and with Brees hitting him in stride, it seemed like 2009 all over again.
Colston will again be called upon this coming Sunday, as the Saints square off with the Panthers in yet another crucial divisional contest.
7. Pierre Thomas vs. Atlanta Falcons
Thomas’ Week 12 game against the rival Atlanta Falcons on the road wasn’t a prolific statistical display, but it was by far his finest performance of the season.
In a 17-13 Thursday night win, Thomas showcased his talents as both a runner and a receiver, and he played a key role in helping the Saints secure the victory.
Thomas had 73 yards rushing on just 10 carries for a whopping 7.3 yards per carry. He also hauled in five passes for 57 more yards. 130 yards of offense is certainly impressive, but his contributions to the Saints' win weren’t strictly found in the numbers.
Thomas’ converted numerous crucial first downs throughout the contest. Two of these came on third downs during the Saints’ first touchdown drive, helping to keep the chains moving against a fired-up Falcons defense. These conversions also served to keep the potent Atlanta offense off the field, as the Falcons were limited to just 13 points in the game.
The New Orleans defense did its part as well, but Thomas was the true MVP of an important divisional contest that ensured the Saints of another season sweep of the Falcons.
6. Saints' Defense vs. Arizona Cardinals
The third contest of the season is typically very important for most teams in terms of self-evaluation. It’s often the game when strengths are more clearly identified than ever before, and speculative weaknesses can be regrettably confirmed.
After the Saints’ third contest of the season, it was clear to the entire NFL that Rob Ryan’s unit had addressed its defensive shortcomings from the previous year.
In 2012, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's New Orleans defense shattered the NFL record for yards allowed in a season. The Saints' Week 3 showing against the Arizona Cardinals served as proof that this year would be quite different altogether.
Against the visiting Cardinals, the New Orleans defense put on a clinic. Arizona was held to just 86 yards rushing and 161 yards passing. Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was sacked four times and intercepted twice, as Saint defenders displayed an energy, aggression and passion they hadn’t shown since the Super Bowl season of 2009.
And, oh yes, they held the Cardinals to just seven points in a 31-7 blowout victory.
5. Jimmy Graham vs. Cardinals
Heading into the third game of the season against the Cardinals, the Saints' defense had carried New Orleans to big wins over Atlanta and Tampa Bay. The offense wasn’t terrible in those first two contests, but it didn't perform up to the standards of a Sean Payton-coached unit.
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham turned in an impressive performance in the Saints’ lackluster win over the Buccaneers the previous week, and his touchdown marked the Saints' only trip to end zone in that entire contest.
Against Arizona, New Orleans was in desperate need of an offensive weapon who would step up and make big plays when needed. There were certainly no surprises when Graham emerged as the playmaker the Saints had been missing.
He hauled in nine passes on the day for 134 yards and two touchdowns and looked like a man among boys against the Arizona defensive backs. Graham would go on to register four more two-touchdown performances over the course of the season, but his dominating performance against the Cardinals stands out as his best in 2013.
4. Saints Defense vs. San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers eliminated the Saints from the playoffs during New Orleans’ last postseason appearance in 2011. A year ago, the 49ers physically dominated the Saints defense in the Superdome with a powerful rushing attack.
The Saints’ chief point of emphasis in this midseason showdown was to match San Francisco’s physicality, particularly from a defensive standpoint.
Ryan’s defense didn’t disappoint, as his unit limited the 49ers to 196 yards of offense in a 23-20 victory. The fearsome San Francisco running game, spearheaded by running back Frank Gore, tallied only 81 yards by day’s end. The 49ers averaged only 3.5 yards per play, and were it not for three Saints turnovers, San Francisco might not have kept the game close.
The Saints had impressive defensive statistics heading into the game, but this slugfest with the 49ers demonstrated their ability to stand toe to toe with a smash-mouth offense and gut out a hard-fought victory.
3. Drew Brees vs. Miami Dolphins
Drew Brees has so many prolific passing games under his belt, fans and media are sometimes desensitized to an incredible performance by him. A three-touchdown game often gets discarded as just another average day at the office for the All-Pro signal-caller.
What he did in a Week 4 Monday night contest against a previously 3-0 Miami Dolphins squad, however, stands out, even among his most notable performances.
Brees carved up the Miami defense with surgical precision, leading the Saints to an easy 38-17 victory. He completed 30 out of 39 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns and spread the ball around to nine different receivers. Two of them (Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham) went over 100 yards receiving, with a third, Marques Colston, coming up just short with 96 yards.
Brees is a lock to grace the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton one day, and performances such as this serve as reminders as to why.
2. Drew Brees vs. Buffalo Bills
A four-touchdown 400-yard passing performance is extremely difficult to top, but only if you're not Drew Brees. Brees bested his Week 4 outing against Miami by tossing for five touchdowns Week 8 against the Buffalo Bills.
With the Saints coming off a bye week and attempting to rebound from their first loss of the season at New England, they needed a solid performance from their star signal-caller.
Brees was nearly perfect (again) at home, as the Saints coasted to a 35-17 victory. The perennial All-Pro went 26-for-34 on the day, totaling 332 yards and five scores.
He distributed the football to ten different receivers, as Graham and rookie Kenny Stills each caught two touchdown passes.
Brees' performance demonstrated a complete mastery of the quarterback position, as he looked off safeties, progressed through his reads with stunning speed and delivered pinpoint-accurate throws.
The lopsided victory moved the Saints to 6-1 on the season and placed them firmly in the driver's seat in the NFC South.
1. Saints vs. Cowboys
Football is the ultimate team sport, and the best New Orleans performance of the season was a total team effort. The Saints' complete obliteration of the Cowboys in Week 10 was close to flawless in all phases of the game.
With Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in attendance in the Superdome, and Saints greats Archie Manning, Rickey Jackson and Willie Roaf on the sidelines, New Orleans humiliated Dallas 49-17 in front of a national viewing audience.
Granted, the Cowboy defense has been putrid all season, but the Saints dominated on both sides of the ball. The New Orleans defense handcuffed a capable Dallas offense, yielding just 193 yards, while the Saints' offense rolled up a franchise-record 625 yards.
In addition to Ingram’s aforementioned rushing performance, there were seemingly countless other astounding statistics in this one-sided contest.
Brees went 34-of-41 for 392 passing yards to go with four touchdown tosses. The Saints had also had four players go over 50 yards receiving.
The Saints defense recorded three sacks, and Dallas quarterback Tony Romo was limited to just 128 yards passing. In addition, New Orleans nearly doubled Dallas in time of possession, and the Saints ran 80 offensive plays to the Cowboys’ 43.
The night's most memorable moment, however, occurred when the Saints broke the NFL record for first downs in a game. New Orleans registered a total of 40 first downs, and the record fell on Thomas’ five-yard scamper late in the fourth quarter.
With two crucial contests remaining, the Saints’ 2013-14 campaign is hardly complete, but many of the fantastic performances mentioned above deserve recognition and shouldn’t soon be forgotten.
The season moves on, however, and more great performances could very well be in store for the viewing pleasure of Saints fans.