Hard Fought Victory
NEW ORLEANS – As the New Orleans Saints’ victories inevitably get harder to earn, the team strengthens the notion that it is the best team in the NFC if not the NFL.
The first five victories came easily, then came the remarkable comeback at Miami, then the wart-filled, workman-like gutcheck that was the 35-27 victory against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night in the Superdome.
Darren Sharper intercepted a Hail Mary heave by Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan with 3 seconds left to preserve the win.
For the second consecutive game the Saints offensive line allowed Drew Brees to be sacked, pressured, hit, and harried. One sack ended with a fumble that was returned for a touchdown.
That was part of New Orleans finishing negative in the turnover department for the first time. No problem as the Saints answered with a pick-six by Jabari Greer and a crucial interception by Tracy Porter, thanks to a tip by linebacker Jonathan Vilma, as the Falcons were poised to take the lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Even though Brees was off at times, thanks to the consistent pressure, the Saints still made enough passing plays, even when it required high degree-of-difficulty plays by Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, Marques Colston, and Jeremy Shockey.
Perhaps the most impressive thing, other than the defense’s continual ability to make big plays and even score, is just how physical and effective New Orleans is in the run game. It continues to evolve with coach Sean Payton getting a handle on how to utilize three very useful halfbacks.
Even after the worst stretch injury-wise, the Saints move forward. Fullback Heath Evans is lost for the year and the Saints use tight end David Thomas at fullback and the running game keeps rolling.
Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis is lost for at least a month and Anthony Hargrove steps right in and plays at least as well.
Scott Fujita misses a second consecutive game because of a calf strain and Jo-Lonn Dunbar steps in and plays well enough.
Porter and Greer go out with minor injuries on the same second-quarter drive and both return to make game-changing interceptions.
This was by far the most stress-filled game in the Dome this season, but let’s keep in mind that the Falcons are a really good team – well coached, physical, good run game, opportunistic. After New Orleans and Minnesota, they’re as good as the NFC has to offer.
The pass blocking is a bit of a concern as is the kicking of John Carney. The coverage units are still shaky at best.
But the Saints are 7-0 for just the second time (the other was in 1991 when they won their first division championship) and they have never been 8-0. They can get there next Sunday in the Superdome by beating the Panthers, who suddenly don’t look as bad as they did a few weeks ago, but who will be prohibitive underdogs.
Then come the one-win Rams and the winless Buccaneers. It’s unlikely the next three weeks will bring as much adversity as the last two have, but if they do, so what? Nothing seems to faze this team.
The Saints have made it harder on their fans the last two weeks, but the more stressful the game, the more satisfying the victory.
The early cakewalks were nice and easy, but the last two pressure-packed wins are the kind that championship teams pull off.
NOTE: Lance Moore (hip) and Jonathan Goodwin (knee) both left the game and did not return. Neither injury is considered major.
(Les East’s blog was named “Best Sports Blog” by the Press Club of New Orleans.)
Re: Hard Fought Victory
I have to disagree with Les on one point..Dunbar was useless last night..all he did was get in other peoples way who had taken the right angle to make the tackle. I had hoped he would play better. Maybe he will get some life lessons from GW.
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