Quick Note: An ill-advised midnight snack after the Saints thrilling victory Monday night led to my stomach deciding to keep me in bed for most of yesterday, delaying this post. I apologize for his selfish behavior.
As defending Super Bowl champion, the Saints have started the season with two games in prime time, on days when no one else was playing. But even when things get back to normal with Sunday's noon game against Atlanta, the Saints' 2-0 start has reinforced the notion that every defending champion wears a bulls-eye on his back.
Just think, would anyone have predicted that Alex Smith would (nearly) out-perform Drew Brees? Would any Who Dat be happy to hear that their team forced five turnovers but only got a safety and a field goal from them? Really, not even the staunchest 49er supporter could have thought Monday Night's game would come down to a semi-deflected field goal as time expired. But what the Saints' 25-22 win highlights is that this is something people need to come to expect. The Saints are Super Bowl Champions and everyone will try measure themselves to them. When everyone is giving you their best shot every week, it's going to take your best to just hold them off.
Oh, and that whole injury thing could be an issue. But onto the imaginary feast!
- Courtney Roby - So long as Drew Brees has sub-par games (for him) and Roby continues to wreck havoc on kickoffs and punts, it's going to be the special-teamer ahead of the quarterback in line for the gumbo. Not only did Roby raised his kick-return average to 27 yards, he was key in limiting San Francisco's return game and he made the heads-up play of the game when he landed on the 49ers muffed punt in the fourth quarter. Mark my words, he will one day win a game for the Saints and people will wonder how it happened. More than likely, it will involve plays like the ones he's made to start the season.
- Drew Brees - Sure, Smith had more yards, but was their any doubt about Brees' ability to drive his team down the field when they needed a score to win? The better question should be directed to Saints fans: how does it feel to have a quarterback leading a team in the final two minutes of a game and expecting to see a win? Strange territory indeed. Also, for all the apparent "struggles" this offense has had, Brees still completed 74% of his passes to nine receivers (including himself!) for 254 yards. Most teams would kill to have an offense that struggles like this one.
- Jonathan Vilma - The Saints' defense will be exciting in so many ways this season. Sure, they may give up yards (417 against San Fran) but they're also going to make plays all over the field. Most of the time, it will be Vilma leading the charge and Monday was no exception. He forced a fumble, had 10 tackles (seven solo) and wrecked havoc in the middle of the field. And even with Frank Gore running wild all game long, Vilma oversaw a unit that didn't cost the Saints' the game.
- Roman Harper - Imagine if Harper could perform like he did on Monday every game. Six tackles, an interception and a forced fumble is what you'd expect from a Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed. It'd be very nice to have one of those playing deep coverage for the Saints.
- Garrett Hartley - Garrett Hartley cares not that you deflected his kick. Garrett Hartley will kick that F@%$! ball through the uprights TO WIN IT EVERY TIME.
- Alex Smith - Look at this jerk thinking he could wipe away years of disappointment as a No. 1 pick that has yet to prove anything all in one night against the defending Super Bowl Champions. Oh, what's that? You're gonna go 23-of-32 for 275 yards and engineer a fourth-quarter drive to tie the game? That's cute. But a better quarterback (see above) wouldn't have thrown two interceptions or have left enough time on the clock so the other team's Super Bowl MVP quarterback could drive down the field for a win. You have a long way to go kiddo.
- Frank Gore - What is it with this guy? He had 112 yards rushing (with a touchdown), 56 yards receiving (with a touchdown) and really made this game very tense for Saints fans everywhere. He was more productive in this game than he was the last two times he played the Saints combined. I'm not going to throw out baseless accusations but -- oh who am I kidding? -- check him for steroids!
- Mike Singletary - As Sports Illustrated's Peter King so pointed out: there's no telling if Singletary is just a great talker and not a great coach. After famously declaring that his defense would stop Drew Brees, they absolutely failed to at the most critical moment. And, while his offense didn't approach the confusion and ineptitude from week one, five turnovers and 22 points isn't exactly the stuff of world beaters. Also, that giant wooden cross and stop watch are both scary and disorienting. Seriously, what exactly does he do with those on the sideline?
- Reggie Bush - Only in the NFL can a broken fibula be seen as good news. Had this been another knee injury, it's likely that Bush's career may have been in jeopardy. Instead, the Saints could be without Bush for just over half the season (not too shabby considering how gruesome the injury seemed at the time). The worst part is that Bush had finally found his niche in this Saints' offense: a powerful decoy with the ability to change games, or at least break out one or two big plays a game. Drew Brees might consider more passes to himself.
- Sean Payton - The Saints are winning football games, but it's certainly hasn't been with the style of last season. The offense has at points been unstoppable and, at others, inept. Now with Bush out, Payton most solve the riddle of his inconsistent offense without a vital cog. Oh, and he's gotta do it on short rest with the Falcons coming to town. Should make for an interesting week.
- Gregg Williams - It's incredibly exciting to have such a talented play-making defense to match the Saints' high-octane offense. It's also incredibly stressful for Saints fans. Where Williams' blitzes and complex schemes led to four turnovers, they were also exploited at times by the 49ers for big gains and scores. If all goes like it did last season, though, this may not be as big a deal as it seems.
- Patrick Willis - After Gore, Willis probably had the most impact on the game. He stone-walled the Saints on third down on two separate occasions (including a huge stop on third-and-goal), registered a sack and led all defenders with eight solo tackles. He also got beat a few times and couldn't will his teammates to stop Brees when they most needed to. Oh well, maybe he'll get traded to someone good some day.