Where did the time go? Wasn't it just yesterday that people were bemoaning the Saints' offense and the team's inability to regain that spark and magic from last season? Maybe, it seemed, their is such a thing as Super Bowl hangovers and, in a city that knows hangovers, this was out in the open for everyone to see.
And yet, as is always the case, hangovers go away. The Saints 31-10 beating of the Rams on Sunday signals a return to the sharpness the Saints displayed when they were playing their best football last season. Sure, the Saints had won five in a row, but most of those games were close and this team did manage to lose to the Browns earlier in the season.
This game, though, saw the Saints go ahead early and then - when previously the team experienced lulls that allowed the opposition back in it - they kept piling it on. When the Rams were driving to possibly bring the score within one, Malcom Jenkins took his interception 91-yards for a touchdown to put the Saints up 15 with less than a minute remaining in the first half. At that point, whether the Rams knew it or not, the game was over.
The Saints have now won six-straight games but face the Ravens, Falcons and Buccaneers to close out their schedule. All three are winnable games, but certainly tougher than today's contest. But the fact that the Saints didn't do what they did earlier in the season and overlook opponents shows how dialed in they've become at the most important time of the year.
EVERYONE — Seriously. This was truly the Saints' all-around best game of the season. If you have to nitpick, you could point to Brees' two interceptions and the fact that the Rams drove all the way to the goal line twice before Bradford threw his interceptions. In football, though, none of that counts for anything. When the Saints needed to execute, they did it exceptionally.
Really, today's game basically comes down to one series of events: With the first quarter winding down, the Saints were driving to go up by two touchdowns. From the 2-yard line, Brees threw a fade route to Jimmy Graham, who made a spectacular catch in the front corner of the end zone. The play was nullified though due to a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty because of the Saints using an illegal substitution. On 3rd-and-goal from the 17-yard line, Brees hit Marques Colston (who made another outstanding catch) for a touchdown on the very next play.
As for the defense? You could characterize Gregg Williams' schemes through risk and reward or how they tend to bend, but not break. Really though, it's a perfect blend of both. All season long, the Saints defense have played a game of calculated chances - mixing up schemes and coverages peppered with aggressive blitz-calling. Every so often, a player like Steven Jackson will come along and gain 96 yards in chunks. But the Saints not only kept Jackson out of the end-zone, bu they also added a score and forced three turnovers.
Turnovers — Well not so much the turnovers but all the fuss that's made of them. Here's the thing: while it's true that Drew Brees has long ago surpassed last season's number of interceptions (he currently stands at 18 through 13 games), can you really say that he's hurting the team all that much?
Early in the season (the Cleveland and Atlanta games, especially), the Saints had a knack for turning the ball over and for allowing teams to capitalize. Against the Rams, the opposite was the case. Brees' first fumble led to just a field goal. Courtney Roby's fumble led to the Jenkins pick-six. Brees' second interception led to a touchdown, but it came in the fourth quarter when the Saints were up by 25 points.
Turnovers are bad, but how bad they are depend more on a team's ability to recover from them. Being the perfectionists that they are, Brees and Sean Payton hate every turnover, that's what makes them so adept at correcting course when they occur.
The Metrodome As Kevin pointed out earlier. Certainly wouldn't want to be the guy who has to clean that mess up.