Who Dat?! Who Dat?!
Who Dat say they gonna run the ball with authority, play great defense, and win on the road despite a sub-par game from Drew Brees?!
The Saints? Really?!
They did just that as they defeated the Buffalo Bills 27-7 to move to 3-0.
In the process, Sean Payton's team is proving that they are not the same ol' Saints.
The Saints may have scored more points in each of their first two games and won by more points against Philadelphia, but their week three victory over Buffalo may later prove to be one of the defining games of the season.
Before you scoff at such a notion, take into account some of these facts:
- The Saints were playing in their second of back to back games on the road, both more than 1,200 miles from home.
- Drew Brees (16 for 29, 172 yards, zero touchdowns, sacked twice, lost a fumble) was merely average.
- Lynell Hamilton, the Saints' fourth running back, scored the game's first touchdown.
- Buffalo scored a touchdown on a fake field goal.
- The Saints punted on four straight possessions (not including the one play to end the first half).
- Despite all of this, the Saints still won by 20.
One of the knocks against Sean Payton's Saints is that they weren't mentally tough and couldn't close out games.
This label was well-deserved. New Orleans lost six games last season by seven points or less.
The defense seemed to always allow the big play at the worst possible time (see last season's losses at Washington and Chicago).
The Saints began shedding that label by outscoring the Bills 17-0 in the fourth quarter and holding Buffalo to 243 total yards, more than 100 below their average.
They extended a 10-7 lead to a 27-7 final margin.
The defense held running back Fred Jackson, who came in averaging 164 total yards from scrimmage, to 97 yards and 3.9 yards per carry.
Charles Grant, (yes, Charles Grant) led a fierce pass rush that recorded four sacks, 14 quarterback hits, and helped hold quarterback Trent Edwards to a passer rating of 56.4.
The defense had a total of eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Offensively, the Saints proved that they are not just Drew Brees and 10 other players.
Each of the Saints' three running backs averaged at least 4.8 yards per carry. Pierre Thomas gained all of his 126 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.
New Orleans ran the ball 38 times for 222 yards and three touchdowns while passing 29 times for just 172 yards (not including sacks) and no touchdowns.
All of this while playing much of the second half with third-string left tackle Zach Strief.
When did the Saints offense decide to start imitating the 2008 Baltimore Ravens?
As the two teams combined for 11 punts and three turnovers in the first 49 minutes of the game, I know that I was thinking what most other long-suffering Saints' fans were thinking:
Just how long can this suddenly impenetrable defense hold out against a team that came in averaging 28.5 points per game?
Turns out, the defense did just fine.
They allowed just one play longer than 18 yards, and that was the 25-yard touchdown off the fake field goal.
Trent Edwards was held to 4.5 yards per pass.
Jabari Greer and Will Smith combined to create one of the game's biggest plays.
With the Saints clinging to a 10-7 lead late in the third quarter, Edwards had driven the Bills 70 yards to the Saints 27-yard line and faced a third and three.
Edwards' pass, intended for Terrell Owens, was tipped by Greer and intercepted by Will Smith.
From that point forward, the defense allowed just 18 yards on 16 plays, while the offense scored 17 points to put the game away.
New Orleans, if only for one game, has shown they can win with defense, a running game, and mental toughness.