Clay A. Smith
Jets' rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez entered the Super Dome Sunday, the embodiment of all of our childhood fantasies. A precocious prodigy, with Hollywood looks, and a big league arm, Sanchez set out to engrave his effigy atop football's Rushmore with legendary Jets' signal-callers Bret Favre and Joe Namath. But Broadway Joe he is not, and as he would soon find out, there's nothing at all Hollywood about a Saints defense that's been a nightmare for inexperienced quarterbacks so far this season.
Led by thirty-three-year-old safety Darren Sharper, the NFL's version of Benjamin Button, the Saints forced Sanchez into four turnovers, three of which were interceptions, to help New Orleans win a defensive battle (24-10) against the league's eighth ranked defense. A spry Sharper picked Sanchez off early in the second quarter, and ninety-nine yards (a new Saints' record) later, New Orleans was up 17-0. The back-breaking touchdown ( Sharper's second 90+ yard return this season) ended a forty-six yard drive that appeared to be heading for six points in the other direction.
It was the NFL's active leader in career interceptions first- of the day. Combined with Sharpers' fourth quarter interception ( 5th for the year, the most in the NFL), Randal Gay's game clenching interception, and Will Smith's sack and fumble recovery for a touchdown, and the Saints have improved to plus seven in turnovers with thirteen on the season.
But despite their improvements on defense, Drew Brees and the Saints' offense had another off day, with just ten points and a relatively modest 343 total yards. Brees finished with 190 yards through the air, completing twenty of his thirty-two attempts. He was never sacked, even so, Brees was under constant duress the entire day, and his receivers couldn't shake free of the Jets' tenacious secondary.
The Saints would eventually find the end-zone on a one yard run from "Mr. fourth quarter" Pierre Thomas. However, as in recent weeks, much of the Saints' success can be attributed to the intense pressure applied by their stout defense. The Saints' defensive line pressured Sanchez into bad decisions, and even worse throws Sunday-allowing New Orleans' reconstructed secondary to reap the rewards.
Thanks to their new look "D", the 4-0 Saints remain undefeaeted for at least one more week. Not only that, they haven't so much as trailed for even a second this season. In back-to-back weeks the Saints' defense has: held their opponet under 250 total yards, allowed an average of 133 passing yards, and sacked the quarterback four times (2 a piece for Will Smith, Charles Grant). But what's more important than any statistic, is the fact that they have proven that they are capable of carrying their prolific offense, whenever called upon to do so.
Fantastic! In my neighborhood! Yum.
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