Monday, November 7, 2011

The Saints should thank the Buccaneers for handing over the division lead

Posted By on Mon, Nov 7, 2011 at 4:19 PM

First and foremost, there is no doubt about the fact that the Saints were pretty much in command for the entire game. Drew Brees - save for one bad read - was pretty much perfect for the entire game and the running game returned to being Dr. Jekyll after it's Mr. Hyde performance in St. Louis.

But the Saints certainly didn't play a definitely dominant game from beginning to end, the type of statement game that a division leader wants to make to its division rivals at home. Especially after an embarrassing performance against one of the league's worst teams the week before and when the Saints were playing a team that already beat them once this season.

Of course, close games should be expected when it comes to division opponents and there's a lot to be said about how the Saints decisively scored their first two touchdowns. But the Buccaneers committed at least five penalties that either directly cost them opportunities for touchdowns or led to a New Orleans touchdown (we're counting LeGarrette Blount's silly unnecessary roughness penalty in the third quarter while Tampa was deep in Saints territory and Ronde Barber's holding penalty on a third down in the Saints next drive).

The Saints, at the very least, were able to achieve a better sense of balance in their offense, but anyone who tells you that the Saints won the game because they run the ball more is forgetting that the Saints ran the ball just eight more times than in their loss to St. Louis, despite never trailing yesterday. No, it's not that the Saints ran the ball more, it's that they ran it more effectively. It's saying something when Chris Ivory's 4.5 yards per carry was the worst among Saints running backs (not to mention Darren Sproles' ridiculous 10.5 yards per attempt).

The Saints defense also had a nice return to competence this week, stonewalling the Buccaneers on fourth-and-short in the first quarter and allowing just 84 rushing yards overall. But there is something still unsettling about the fact that Josh Freeman was still able to lead Tampa Bay down the field 77 yards to a fourth quarter touchdown that brought the game within one score late. Especially considering that same quarterback thought it was a good idea to pass to a receiver going across the middle when his team had no timeouts and there was less than a minute left in the game.

None of this is to say that the Saints were ever in danger of losing yesterday. Not when they held Tampa Bay to just six points through three quarters while amassing 453 net yards on offense. But you have to wonder if the Saints are going to get back to being the lights-out juggernaut they were two years ago or if they'll have to grind out victories for the rest of the season. After all, you can't play the Indianapolis Colts every week.

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