The Report, Dickens edition
It was the best of games, it was the worst of games.
Yeah, cheapo lead-in, stolen millions of times by hacks like me since the late 1800s. You get what you pay for around here.
If I told you the Saints would have a road game in which
- they rushed for 114 yards and held the ball for over 37 minutes
- they had no turnovers
- Drew Brees had a completion percentage over 75% and passed for 337 yards
- the defense had held the other team to three points for the first 42 minutes of the game
- the defense had a huge drive-killing stuff on a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak
- we held Chris Johnson to 23 yards rushing
then you would have assumed a nice blowout victory.
If I told you the Saints would have a road game in which
- they had TD punt return called back
- they went 0-3 in the red zone, with one TD pass not called a TD on a thisclose call by the refs and another TD pass dropped in the end zone by Lance Moore
- they had 11 penalties, any number of which resulted in the recall of scores or nice gains
- the Saints would lose two challenges, but the Titans would win one on a thisclose call resulting in a lost fumble reversed
- on the last three Titans drives of the game, starting with 7:01 to go, the Saints allowed a total of 188 yards on just 20 plays
then you would have assumed it was a colossal choke-job loss.
You were closer the first time.
That was actually a very good win. The Titans aren’t complete slackers, especially on defense, and the bizzarro-world, flag-happy officiating in the first half took everybody out of their rhythm, which sort of levelled the playing field.
Also, that’s about as well as the Titans could have played, and we got was a nice road win over a decent, contending team that played probably as good a game as the Titans are capable of playing. They didn’t commit a huge slew of penalties, didn’t leave the ball all over the ground, tackled pretty well, and held the Saints offense to just three plays over 25 yards. We took their best shot, and their best shot wasn’t good enough on an odd day for us when we left a bunch of points on the field: the flagged TD on the punt return, Graham’s catch/non-catch (as opposed to Titans QB Jake Locker’s over-the-pylon TD call), and Moore’s bi-annual end zone drop. That game was a lot closer to a 34-17 win than a 24-22 loss, and that’s four solid wins (two blowouts) against four contending teams that are playing pretty good football right about now.
There were also some parallels to the Falcons game (also a road win against a winning team, IIRC), right down to the defense giving us three-and-a-half quarters of very solid football. Despite the late lapses, they are getting more confident that somehow somebody is going to make a play, and they’re starting to get that done.
We’re getting real close to real good. Real close. We KNOW the defense has some limitations….but they are starting to make at least some plays, and you can’t constantly run around looking for problems and overestimating the defenses of the other contenders, or you’ll make yourself insane.
This wouldn’t be a Claude Coupee special without one quibble, non?
Run the ball, and if you miss you’re punting with 1:10 left, and they get the ball back with maybe a minute left at their own 20, no time outs left. Worst case, they’re throwing into the end zone from midfield on the last play of the game.
Giving them an extra 40 seconds or so gives even a rookie QB like the Titans’ Jake Locker some margin for error. It was third and too long, there’s a time and a place to run the clock and punt. Just what was a (thankfully) RARE clock/game management bufu by Payton.
Usually, he knows when to fold ‘em. Not late last Sunday, though.
Once again, in a parallel to the Falcons game, we have a hard-earned two-score lead with seven minutes to go, with the other team having scored only one TD the entire game, and they have the ball on their side of the field, needing a quick drive to make it a game. If they move slowly and fail to score, or there’s a turnover or a three-and-out, it’s pretty much over.
And once again, The Family Practitioner rolls out the dreaded 3-3-5 defensive package against the opponent’s two-minute spread offense for the rest of the game.
I have to give us credit: no matter who they put in at LB, and all of Jon Vilma, Will Herring, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Ramon Humber Humber and Martez Wilson got their shots in the last seven minutes, they all sucked. But it wasn’t their fault.
But salvation! I have a new theory!
We are lulling the Packers to sleep. The only way to the Super Bowl is through Green Bay, and it makes no sense to get there if you don’t have the weapons to succeed once you do. So we are patiently building up a raft of game film of this sieve-like 3-3-5 defense because we can’t risk exposing what 4-1-6 or other package we’ll need to spring on the Packers in the second half of the NFCCG in Lambeau Field, when they won’t be in a position to adjust. We’ll just have to take our chances now and risk a loss or two rather than show it to them now, because this hole card is too precious, and what’s the point of getting there if you can’t stop them when you do, right?
I am only being half-facetious. I am also violating one of my most precious principles, Hanlon’s Razor (“Never assume malice if you can explain it with stupidity”), In the meantime, I am giving Saints HC Sean Payton and The Family Practitioner waaaaaay too much credit for being devious.
Of course, these are the same guys who had a different first half, third quarter and fourth quarter defensive game plans for Peyton Manning in Super Bowl ExCellEyeVee, so maybe I am not so crazy.
But in trying to understand why we persevere with this personnel package in critical moments, and seem satisfied that it at the last minute doesn’t blow two-score leads with seven minutes to go, I am sort of struggling for an operative thesis on the subject, so if you have a better one please submit it in the comment area below.
You can relax about this weekend. This team is getting into overdrive. Four straight wins over reasonable-quality contenders, with two gut-check road wins and two home blowouts, this doesn’t happen to wannabes.
Moreover, the 49ers got exposed a little in losing to the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday, and a first-round bye for the Saints is now within reach, and this Saints team knows that a win Sunday puts the pressure on San Francisco for two straight games, the Monday nighter against Pittsburgh and the game the following Saturday against a sneaky Seahawks team in Seattle, before the Saints play the next Monday night. While you could make a case for the Vikings putting up some resistance…..forget it. I am not going to bother with the winning-team-record thing, or their four recent close losses against decent teams. The Saints are on a mission now, and even an A-game from the Vikings is not going to be enough. We are specializing in taking away the opponent’s best weapon, and we will stop Adrian Peterson well enough, and get enough of our own points to boot.
Saints 38, Vikings 17.
GO SAINTS GO!