By Clay A. Smith
To borrow a phrase from the epic classic Rocky Balboa, the Saints "got on the job training in courage," in their 46-34 point win over the Dolphins. Okay, perhaps characterizing any of Sylvester Stalone's cinematic undertakings as a classic or an epic is both objectionable as well as grounds for immediate institutionalization. But as I sat in awe of what the Saints had done in Land Shark Stadium Sunday, those were the only words that came to mind.
The Saints went into their locker room at halftime, humbled by a Miami team that at 2-3, weren't at all impressed by their flawless 5-0 record. A team of lesser character would have almost certainly packed it in after trailing by as many as three touchdowns before the break. And who could blame them for resting on their laurels a bit? There's no shame in going 5-1, and the first twenty-eight minutes could not have been scripted any worse for the "Black and Gold."
In all, Saints' quarterback Drew Brees was sacked 5 times and was under duress practically the entire first half. Dolphins' LB Joey Porter was on Brees like they were sharing a jersey ,and whenever Miami unleashed its vaunted Wild Cat offense, New Orleans could offer little resistance. Worse than that, the Saints having never trailed in '09, found themselves in unfamiliar territory after an early Bress interception -behind.
After converting the first of three Brees interceptions into a 7-0 lead, former Saints' RB Ricky Williams scored his second TD of the game on a 68 yard run, putting Miami up 14-3. An eight yard scamper by RB (slash Wild Cat officianato) Ronnie Brown gave Miami a 21-3 advantage and seemed to be the proverbial nail in the coffin.
However: having shown no signs of life, with two seconds left before the half, stalled at Miami's one yard line, with no time outs, and their field goal unit already lining up to kick for three, the Saints caught a break. Miami, perhaps themselves caught off guard by such a conservative call, took a time out -enabling Brees to lobby to head coach Sean Payton for one more shot at a touchdown. After a one yard sneak by Brees, the Saints pulled within fourteen (24-10), but more importantly, proved that they could take Miami's best shot and still keep moving forward.
The team that walked off of the field at the half looked more like the Saints of old, so unaccustomed to holding success that they fumbled it away the first chance they got. But the team that showed up for the second half looked more like the team that we'd seen the first six weeks of the season.
New Orleans came out and attacked Miami from every angle. After allowing their quarterback to get knocked around for the better part of thirty minutes by linebacker Jerry Porter and the Dolphin's "D", the Saints' offensive line dug in their heels, allowing Brees time to engineer pivotal scoring drives. And although you'd never know it by looking at the score, the defense actually played well too.
Safety Darren Sharper and corner back Tracy Porter both had interceptions for scores. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma had a game high ten tackles and helped limit Williams to just eighty total rushing yards (most of which came off his 68 yard run). When all was said and done the Saints had held the leagues number one rushing attack to 137 yards (nearly 40 yards under their average) and fought their way back into what appeared to be an upset.
But what best encapsulated Sunday's dramatic win, was TE Jeremy Shockey's 66 yard catch and run that set up a spectacular touchdown on a reverse by RB Reggie Bush. Shockey turned what was already a huge thirty yard catch, into a point of reference that the Saints would use to rally around, carrying Dolphin's safety Gibril Wilson for thirty extra yards, it was clear that Shockey would not be denied-and nether would the Saints.
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