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Saints @ 49ers In Review

Last night’s victory over the San Francisco 49ers was not the most impressive by the New Orleans Saints. While the defense used its opportunistic style to the team’s advantage and the special teams gave a stellar performance, the offense appeared to be going nowhere.

A victim of the 49ers stout 3-4 defense, the Saints offense was almost completely thrown off balance. Rushing for only 50 yards in twenty-four carries is certainly not the way they envisioned moving the ball before the game started. As a result, Drew Brees was pressured all night long and not allowed to settle into his comfort zone.  Yet somehow, the MVP of Superbowl XLIV quietly passed for 254 yards and two TDs, completing 28 of 38 passes.  By taking advantage of whatever the 49ers gave, which were short, underneath passes, the Saints proved that the long ball isn’t the only way an offense can find success against a very good defense, however slight that success may seem.

It also helped that the defense continued to create turnovers (3) that kept points away from the 49ers and gave the ball back to the Saints offense.   The first came when Tracy Porter intercepted a tipped ball from Alex Smith to Frank Gore, leaving onlookers to think that the rout was on.  But the Saints offense stalled and they came away with nothing.  Then, in a very impressive drive that would have given the Niners the lead before halftime, MLB Jonathan Vilma stripped the ball from RB, Delanie Walker on the Saints 8-yard line and safety, Malcolm Jenkins recovered it for the Saints at the 3.  The third defensive turnover came in the 4th quarter when LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar tipped the ball, leaving another Smith pass to be intercepted by Tracy Porter.  To our dismay, the Saints offense could never get it together enough to capitalize off the turnovers.  But because the defense kept points off the scoreboard for the 49ers and kept their offense off the field, that allowed the Saints to hang around.

Even the special teams did its part to assist the offense.  Garrett Hartley rebounded nicely a week after shanking 2 field goals, nailing three against San Francisco including the game winner.  And as always, Thomas Morstead was excellent at controlling field position in favor of the Saints.   Courtney Roby was also very critical to the win.  In the ensuing kickoff of the second half, he had a 35-yard return which led to a 61-yard touchdown drive.  He also recovered a fumbled punt and gave the team solid field position that put them in place to drive down the field and win with Hartley’s kick.

In spite of the win, this game has left many wondering, what has happened to the Saints offense?  I even wondered that myself until it dawned on me that somehow, they’d managed to score 23 points.  As much as the 49ers and their fans would like to believe that they gave New Orleans this game, it really isn’t the case at all.  When you look at it, they gave up the safety on a mistake early in the game.  Even with that 2 points deducted, the Saints still would have won by a point.  Whether they’d want to admit it or not, takeaways are as much a part of the game as getting first-downs are.  Walker didn’t just fumble the ball; Vilma stripped it away.  It was the same incident with Porter’s interceptions; they could’ve fallen to the ground as incomplete passes.  But that’s what sets the Saints defense apart from a lot of others.  It thrives more on taking the ball away from the opposing offense rather than merely concerning itself with how many yards are being given up on the ground or through the air.  When it’s all said and done, it works just as well to keep their scoring at a minimum while giving our offense at least a shot at gaining the advantage.  And as much as we all would have liked to see touchdowns rather than the field goals that resulted, in a game where points were at a premium, every little bit helped. 

It took me a while to get it, but I eventually came to this conclusion:  we’ve become so accustomed to seeing our team blowing teams out by putting up 30+ points per game that these nail biters of the first two weeks of the season just don’t seem right.  Some have even accused the Saints of having become complacent.  But let’s not forget that those first two opponents were quite formidable, both having very good defenses that thrive by causing turnovers themselves.  Yet, the Saints did not turn the ball over last night as opposed to the 5 by the Niners.  And when it counted the most, Brees found a seam through which to stretch the field vertically and hit Marques Colston with a 30-yard strike that eventually led to Hartley’s winning field goal.  In a game that many were calling a trap, the Saints found a way to squeak out a win.  But that’s what champions do, they find a way to win against all odds.  Sure, the 49ers offense moved the ball better.  They found balance because their running game was solid and Smith finally found his rhythm.  They should see the positive in that and not be complaining to the media about what they could’ve or should’ve done.  As far as that goes, the Saints could’ve put up 28 points off the four turnovers, but that didn’t happen either.  The point is, a game has to be played for four complete quarters and the odds say that someone is going to win, which means someone is going to lose.   The Saints won because they played hard and they fought back instead of giving up, not because anybody gift-wrapped and handed them anything.  To say or imply otherwise is just a show of poor sportsmanship and should be frowned upon by anybody who loves and appreciates the game of football.  Whether the naysayers agree or not, the Saints deserved to win last night.  It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win nonetheless.

I wish a speedy and complete recovery to Reggie Bush who was injured in the game last night.    Also, my thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Denver Broncos wide receiver, Kenny McKinley who lost his life.  And to our beloved New Orleans Saints, congratulations on starting the season 2-0.

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