Last night's game was one of those touchstone games of the year, the kind of event that will make this regular season memorable for two fanbases.
For New Orleans, this was, as was repeated throughout the postgame, their franchise's "signature win."
For New England, it was certainly a milestone in their franchise history, though perhaps not one they wanted to pass so soon.
If the Saints go on to have a decade half as good as the one the Patriots seem to be wrapping up—or, at worst, continue their run of dominance through this year's playoffs—then Monday night will be the night most people look back to as the night when the Saints truly earned their stripes.
For anybody who watched the whole game, this will be old news: The Saints were dominant in absolutely every facet of the game. I mean it. They beat New England in absolutely every way you can beat a football team.
They were faster and hit harder on special teams. They got pressure on Tom Brady consistently. They succeeded with every sort of coverage downfield. They tackled to perfection. They made plays after the catch. They gave Drew Brees tons of time. They ran the ball well when they needed to. They didn't commit many penalties. They turned the ball over. They made crucial first downs throughout the game.
Everything. Even their kicker got lucky with a ball that should've gone wide-left.
In the aftermath, experts seem to be doubting the ability of the Patriots' defense after last night.
In truth, I don't think last night says as much about the New England defense as it does about the New Orleans offense.
On many of the long pass plays that the Saints benefited from, Drew Brees simply made picturesque throws into tight coverage.
Now, there were plenty of missed tackles, a good deal of miscommunication, and some missed opportunities, but New Orleans made every play they had to, and quite a few more for good measure.
But what last night showed me was that unless you can truly dominate the Saints in one area and really get them off their game, you're not going to do anything but slow them down.
I think New England's defense is still growing together, and last night did expose some serious flaws—namely, their inability to generate enough pass-rush up front to give a quarterback like Drew Brees or Peyton Manning any sort of real trouble—but they aren't necessarily flaws that will be exposed week-in, week-out, even into the playoffs.
Offensively, New England's biggest problem was protection, with so many injuries to their offensive line. That, too, looks to be a fatal flaw when facing any team with a solid cover unit and a half-decent pass rush.
When you can't protect Brady and he's forced to throw quickly, a defense can successfully play man against New England, as was shown in the Jets game early in the season and again last night.
Indianapolis did something similar as well, though their imperious pass rush on both edges allowed them to even play zone against New England, even if Brady had a reasonably good day picking apart their coverages.
The Saints simply brought pressure from everywhere, and succeeded. You could see Brady's frustration last night on the crucial play in which he threw his second interception, ending New England's hopes of a comeback. He dropped back, took half a beat and saw an open man.
Brady looked to be ready to throw then, seemingly realizing he finally had some time to take a stab downfield, waited half a beat before uncorking a long pass into thick coverage that fell a good 20 yards short of where it needed to be.
There was no F-bomb this time, just a brisk unbuckling of the chin strap and a good 20 minutes staring at the clock, hands on hip, waiting for zeros.
Overall, though, beyond all the personnel issues, the Brees vs. Brady debate, the injuries on both sides, and the "passing of the torch" feeling that Monday night's game produced, this game came down to one thing:
I don't think it's going too far to say that Belichick was out-coached last night in a way he hasn't been out-coached in a long time, if ever.
When New England's offense made adjustments to get the ball out faster in the second half, New Orleans made adjustments on defense. They brought pressure from all areas with the blitz early in the game, then they rushed three and dropped back into a Tampa-Two zone, staying aggressive on outside routes.
That's not just a different look, that's an entirely different defensive philosophy and the Saints pulled every formation off to perfection against probably the most stacked passing attack in the league.
It was refreshing to see Belichick seem to really take the time out to give Brees his proper due in front of the cameras, as well.
The Saints, in true New Orleans fashion, took a lot of gambles against the New England offense. They pushed all-in against Randy Moss and the Patriots' receivers time and time again and doubled up on nearly every play.
There's no knowing how the rest of the season will play out from here, and the Saints have some pretty talented teams to get through in the playoffs, but, as obvious as it may sound, it has to be said:
Dem Saints are pretty damn good.
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