The New Orleans Saints took care of business two weeks too late with a 42-17 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After a two-game losing skid, the Saints went from the No. 2 seed in the NFC all the way down to the sixth seed where they will now spend the playoffs on the road.
With the Saints going undefeated at home, losing that higher seed may prove to be extremely costly. The Saints consistently look like the best team in the NFL at home but resemble the Bad News Bears on the road.
In this particular contest, the Saints found a way to manufacture a ton of explosive plays all while hitting 10 different receivers in the process. Sans a few explosive plays of its own, Tampa Bay was unable to generate a significant amount of offense.
The Saints had a solid showing in all phases of the game, but it was the offensive line that was the key to this one. The swagger with which the Saints operate at home needs to be bottled up for the playoff run.
When a team is as talented as New Orleans, there's no reason to ever lose multiple games in a row—regardless of the venue.
The Saints must now replicate this performance on the road, in less-than-ideal conditions, to procure that Lombardi Trophy. Maybe this win will galvanize the entire team, and they will catch fire like we've seen with recent Super Bowl winners.
The Saints have as good of a shot as anyone. It's time to show and prove.
There's just a different pep in the step of the Saints inside the friendly confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The offensive line rises to the occasion, the receivers seemingly catch everything and the defense flies to the ball like a pack of wild animals—but on the road...not so much.
The previous two games were very revealing as to what kind of team the Saints truly are. They are the classic example of front-runners. If the Saints jump out on you early, you might as well call the National Guard for some help.
But if you jump out on them and punch them in the mouth, they turtle up and look for a soft spot to land. This game was a microcosm of that. Once New Orleans answered Tampa Bay's touchdown on a flea-flicker—with an explosive play of its own—the game was virtually over.
The Saints smelled blood and were firing on all cylinders. Receivers Lance Moore (four catches for 73 yards with one TD) and Marques Colston (six catches for 67 yards) dipped into the fountain of youth and came back as the 2012 version of themselves.
Even rookie receiver Kenny Stills got into the action with a 76-yard TD. It's been said that in basketball role players show up mostly at home. With the Saints virtually playing basketball on grass, maybe that notion has crept over into their operation.
Whatever the case may be, duplication is in order come next week.
One problem the Saints have is the inability to grind out a victory. Often when the Saints are up by multiple scores, they still rely on the pass. And when they do run, they are unable to achieve first downs.
This game was a bit of the same. The Saints ended up running the ball 30 times for a paltry 98 yards. Rookie Khiry Robinson had a good showing, contributing 50 yards on 12 carries, but was unable to truly finish out the contest. And for some odd reason, the Saints decided against pounding Mark Ingram when it's he's running on a different level.
Ingram ended up with only 20 yards on just three carries. With the tenacity that Ingram has been running with he should've gotten 15 carries in the second half alone.
It's hard to imagine that type of strategy accompanying the Saints through the playoffs all the way to the Super Bowl. Head coach Sean Payton wants to win his way and his way only. Once the Saints built up a comfortable lead, there was no reason why the run shouldn't have brought the game home.
The Saints did have a nice run by Robinson negated by penalty in the waning moments. But even that would've only given the Saints 31 attempts. In a game that played out the way this one did, the run should've superseded the pass.
Here's hoping the next game plays out like this one, and the Saints are able to shorten it by running efficiently.
On a day where Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning broke Drew Brees' record for most passing yards in a season (with 5,477, one more than Brees), it reminds us of just how great Brees truly is. Against Tampa Bay, Brees was virtually perfect.
He completed 24 of 31 passes for 381 yards and four TDs. He hit those 10 aforementioned receivers in stride and looked flawless doing so. When Brees is on his game, is there anyone more entertaining to watch?
But make no mistake about it, Brees is a conduit for his offensive line. That unit played an extremely good game keeping Brees clean—for the most part. The receivers did a great job settling in the voids of the zone and taking advantage of busted coverage whenever those opportunities presented themselves.
Overall it was a masterful performance on the offensive side of the ball. And when the defense eventually stiffened up, the Bucs had no chance.
This turned out to be the most balanced game of the season with the Saints running the ball 30 times and passing the ball 31 times. Nobody expects the Saints to duplicate that type of balance, but there's no doubt they can work magic if they do.
This game is evident of that.
I'm not sure if Saints' left tackle Terron Armstead's name was called all game. This is a far departure from his previous game against the Carolina Panthers where his name was called every two minutes like a petulant child.
Brees was sacked by right defensive end Adrian Clayborn, but that can be attributed to Brees trying to make a play over anything else. If Amstead would've played like this against Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, the results of the game may have been in the Saints' favor.
It was a bold move to bench former starter Charles Brown right before the biggest game of the season, and it blew up in Payton's face. But nobody will remember that game if the Saints, and Armstead, catch fire and ride that momentum all the way to the Lombardi Trophy.
Maybe Payton was playing possum this entire season. Imagine if he comes outs and calls a smashmouth game, and the Saints punish their way to victory?
No wait, I wrote that last sentence under the influence of sleepiness. Payton will undoubtedly put Armstead in harm's way by putting the ball in the air an inordinate amount of times. But if Payton does somehow see the light, there's no reason that we can't see a repeat performance from both Armstead and the rest of his cohorts.
We can all dream, right?