Saints Accomplish Amazing Turnaround In 100 Hours
By John Ventola
What a difference a day makes! Quadruple that, and national football fans were able to see the fate of a professional franchise change before their very eyes. The New Orleans Saints recovered from an uninspired, inept performance on Sunday in losing to Philadelphia to defeat arch-rival Atlanta 31-21 in a raucous Superdome Thursday night.
New Orleans Coach Sean Payton and his staff not only put together an outstanding game plan to hand the Falcons their first defeat of the season, they were able to
recharge a physically and emotionally wounded team that was hammered into submission in the City of Brotherly Love just four days before into an energized group of overachievers. The Saints went from downtrodden to downright tough to beat.
Sure the electric atmosphere of the Dome helped, but make no mistake, there was a lot of work done since the guys showcased a terrible effort on Sunday, work that started, no doubt, on the flight home.
While the turnover battle was reversed in the Saints favor, the game plan was the difference maker. Realizing that quarterback Drew Brees was under a hard rush behind a patchwork offensive line against Philly (lost two fumbles and suffered one interception), Payton alternated drop back passes with rollout throws to keep Atlanta pass-rushers at bay. The plan worked to perfection.
Mixing the passing of Brees and the hard running of Mark Ingram in goal line situations, the Saints were able to post similar offensive statistics to the Philadelphia game (Brees
was 26-43 for 335 yards, Saints rushed for 96 yards against Philly and 81 against the Falcons).
Brees was 30 for 39 for 312 yards, again throwing for two touchdowns. This time there were no fumbles, and no interceptions. Although Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan passed for 295 yards by completing 30 of 44 throws, Atlanta’s passing game was largely ineffective for most of the game.
Although Brees’ mobility and pin-point passing were keys, the real game differential was right there for all to see. The Superdome crowd and a national TV audience got to see what makes sports such a dynamic, tantalizing endeavor to watch. The same players who were going through the motions in the third and fourth quarters Sunday, were rushing Ryan relentlessly, and defending receivers all over the field.
Rookie linebackers Stephone Anthony and Hau’oli Kikaka led the defense along with a rejuvenated Cam Jordan. Rookie Delvin Breaux blanketed Falcons Julio Jones,
basically holding him in check. Coach Rob Ryan’s group took on an entirely different demeanor from Sunday’s effort. The much maligned Ryan was super charged on the sideline and his players followed his lead on the field. Gang tackling, batted passes, and overall pursuit had Ryan and Payton exchanging smiles instead of glares and words.
Make no mistake, special team player Michael Mauti’s (yes, Rich’s son) punt block with two minutes left in the first quarter was huge. The Gleason-like punt block, and Mauti’s recovery and touchdown tumble, was the crowd energizer, but the team still had to contend with the Falcons, who had won four of their five games by coming from behind in the fourth quarter.
Jimmy Graham? Ben Watson had the best game of his career, catching ten passes for 127 yards and one touchdown. The tight end and Brees continually hooked up on key situations. Watson and wide receiver Willie Snead came up with clutch catches as the Saints used their screen passing game less frequently.
The night was full of emotion. A home team on the ropes regrouped and beat its favored NFC South arch-rival. Although it possibly could be just a momentary blip on
the Saints’ heart monitor (I blogged early Monday that the Saints were on Life Support after Eagles beating), it clearly showed they do have one.
Ten regular season games are left on the schedule. Question remains, which Saints team will show up for those tilts? Saints fans can hope Thursday night’s performance was a precursor for the remainder of the season.
Former player Steve Gleason, diagnosed with ALS in 2011, was awarded the George Halas Award before the game. A statue of his famous punt block against Atlanta in the “Katrina Return Game” in 2006 sits outside the Dome. His team refused to wave their White Flag Thursday, leading Gleason to tweet after Mauti’s punt block, “Hey Atlanta, don’t punt!”
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