Clash of rivals
Divisional games — no matter if you’re winless, undefeated, or somewhere in between, they mean everything.
To win a divisional game isn’t just to add a tally in the win column. It’s to assert your dominance over your rivals. These are wins, or losses, that live on until the next meeting. Not only are the bragging rights for the team, but they are egually for the fans. Maybe even more so. Nothing is more satisfying than beating a team that you are constantly linked to, like a sibling. While you are brothers under one division, you are also sworn rivals and victory is so much sweeter when it’s personal.
And right now, the New Orleans Saints (2-4) have the bragging rights over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4).
Though it wasn’t easy.
This game had the feeling of good, old-fashioned NFC South football, and it didn’t disappoint.
The big plays came fast and furious as on the first drive, veteran defensive back Ronde Barber tipped and intercepted a Drew Brees pass at the line of scrimmage. On the very next play, quarterback Josh Freeman connected with a wide receiver for a 13-yard touchdown. After a quick Saints three-and-out, Tampa Bay scored again on a 36-yard run by rookie running back Doug Martin to go up 14-0.
Brees then lead a methodical drive that ended in a 17-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marques Colston. Tampa responded with a touchdown to wide receiver Vincent Jackson that put the Bucs up 21-7.
Realizing the had to start scoring fast, the Saints put up one of the best quarters of Brees’ career. In less than 13 minutes, Brees threw for over 230 yards and three touchdowns, giving him an outstanding 313 yards and four touchdowns in the first half along with a 28-21 halftime lead.
The 3rd quarter saw very little of the Saints offense as Tampa Bay played keep away while trying to regain the lead. But the Saints defense held, making an impressive goal-line stand after safety Malcolm Jenkins caught up with a racing Vincent Jackson and stopped him at the 1-yard line after a 95-yard completion.
The score remained 28-21 going into the 4th quarter. Running back Pierre Thomas scored from five yards out, giving the Saints a 35-21 lead late in the game.
Tampa Bay responded with a 14-play, six-minute drive, to make it 35-28 with 4:10 remaining.
Regaining possession with just under two minutes remaining in regulation, the Bucs drove within sight of the goal line. On the final play, Freeman connected with Mike Williams on what would have been a game-tying touchdown, Williams had stepped out of bounds and was ruled an ineligible receiver, negating the score.
Final score: Saints 35, Bucs 28
The offense played lights out in the 2nd quarter, scoring four times on four straight possessions as Brees threw touchdowns to four different players (wide receivers Marques Colston and Joseph Morgan, tight end David Thomas, and running back Darren Sproles). Morgan, who had been hit or miss all season, made an amazing 48-yard play in which he caught the ball, spun to make the first defender miss, and while regaining his balance, flipped a second defender over his head and ran in for the score.
Although they failed to be as balanced on offense as they had hoped for, the game dictated that they had to throw, and they did it to the tune of 377 yards. While the defense once again failed to hold the opponent back, they did have some glimmers of hope with a few stops late in the game and a goal-line stand that turned Tampa away with no points. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma played for the first time and immediately pumped some life into the defense. While he was not credited with any tackles, he put consistent pressure on Freeman and nearly picked off a pass. If he gets to keep playing, there may be some hope for the defense.
While the passing game was great, the running game struggled yet again. The Saints only managed 81 yards on 26 carries. Running back Mark Ingram flamed out with only 21 carries on seven attempts, handing more ammunitions to the critics who question the decision to draft him in the 1st round.
The defense also showed why it is the worst in the league, giving up huge plays including a scoring run of 36 yards and a 95-yard pass. Freeman amassed over 400 yards and three touchdowns. While the Bucs only ran for 102 yards against the worst run defense in the league, they averaged 4.3 yard per carry and would have done more if they hadn’t needed to play catch-up. The secondary constantly got torched in the middle and on 3rd down, and they missed many tackles, allowing decent runs. It’s obvious why the Saints are languishing at 2-4.
And while the team wants to be more balanced, I say go with what works. Don’t force balance. If Brees is lighting it up, roll with it and don’t let up. Don’t force the running game. If it isn’t working, then just use it to keep the defense honest. Don’t just run for the sake of trying to be balanced. The fact is Brees is going to have to carry this team all year. The winning formula appears to be pray the defense gets a few stops and live by the arm of Brees. Heck, they’re paying him $40 million this year; they might as well get all they can out of him.
The Saints now go to Denver to battle the Broncos on Sunday Night Football. It will be Brees vs. Peyton Manning once again, in a rematch of Super Bowl XLIV (well, almost). I expect nothing less than a raging shootout. The key to the game will be how the Saints offense deals with Denver’s renowned pass rush. We know Manning can — and most likely will – carve up the Saints secondary. The question is, can Brees match Manning blow for blow?
- Drew Brees threw four touchdowns for 18th game in his career, the 4th most all-time.
- He also had his 62nd game with 300 yards passing, tying Brett Favre for 3rd all-time. He needs only five more to overtake Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
- He also extended his record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 49.
- On play-action passes, Brees was 7-7 for 158 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. In the previous five games, he had been completing only 42.1% of his PA passes and only had a 2:2 TD to INT ratio. Sunday, he finished at 90.9% with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
- With his 48-yard touchdown catch, wide receiver Joseph Morgan now has three catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns . . . on the year.