Dominant Saints primed for run at perfection
NEW ORLEANS (AP) – The New Orleans Saints’ pursuit of perfection looks more attainable with every lopsided victory.
Following their 38-17 triumph over New England, nine of the Saints’ 11 wins have been by double digits and their average margin of victory is 16.9 points.
Of their five remaining regular season games, only two will be against teams that currently have winning records.
Yet quarterback Drew Brees cautioned against making too much of the Saints’ impressive dismantling of the Patriots on Monday night.
“People are going to talk about this game and maybe blow it out of proportion a little bit,” Brees said following his 371-yard, five touchdown outing. “This game doesn’t entitle us to anything. It’s just another win in the win column. If anything, you have the challenge of coming back on a short week and playing at Washington. That’s what I mean when I say it gets tougher.”
The Redskins, who host the Saints on Sunday, are 3-8. Still, they proved by nearly winning at Philadelphia last weekend that they haven’t given up. Brees has said that the longer the Saints go without a loss, the more their future opponents, regardless of their own record or playoff hopes, will eagerly await their chance to be the first to knock off New Orleans.
“By no means is anybody going to roll over for us,” Brees said. “We understand that and know next week’s game is as big as this one.”
If the Saints win at Washington, they will then enter what appears to be the toughest two-game stretch remaining on their schedule. They will travel to Atlanta, which is currently 6-5, then return home for what has been one of the toughest tickets in town for weeks – a Saturday night showdown with the Dallas Cowboys, who now lead the NFC East at 8-3.
After that, the Saints close out their regular season at home against Tampa Bay (1-10) and at Carolina (4-7).
The Saints already are on the brink of winning the NFC South Division. New Orleans needs only a win or tie at Washington, or one more loss or tie by second-place Atlanta.
It isn’t yet clear how much will be riding on New Orleans’ last couple games. Much will depend on whether the race with the Minnesota Vikings (10-1) for the NFC’s top overall seed remains tight by then.
If not, head coach Sean Payton could start resting his starters more. Certainly, the Saints would like to match the first ever 16-0 regular season accomplished by the 2007 Patriots, but keeping starters healthy for the playoffs will take precedence. After all, New Orleans, which has hosted nine Super Bowls, is home to one of only five NFL teams never to play in a Super Bowl.
At the same time, it appears that the Saints aren’t just good, but loaded on both sides of the ball. Neither of New Orleans’ starting cornerbacks – Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter – played against New England, nor did running back Reggie Bush or receiver Lance Moore. The Saints kept rolling. Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell combined for 114 yards rushing, Devery Henderson and Marques Colston each had more than 100 yards receiving, and the Saints remained on pace to narrowly break New England’s 2007 single-season scoring record of 589 points.
The Saints’ defense hardly looked like the patchwork variety, intercepting Tom Brady twice. One of those interceptions was Darren Sharper’s eighth this season. The other was the first in more than a year for Mike McKenzie, who missed most of last season with a right knee injury, then rehabilitated as a free agent this year until the Saints brought him back a week ago.
New Orleans also stopped Brady’s streak of five games with 300 or more yards passing, although Brady might have gotten the mark if Bill Belichick hadn’t benched his starters in the middle of the fourth quarter, when the Saints led by three TDs.
The Patriots were not used to losing this way, and afterward could only give credit to the quality of the team that handed them by far their worst loss of the year.
“They are a real good football team,” Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork began. “Probably the best we’ve played all season.”