Tonight’s 38-17 shellacking of New England was a major milestone in the history of the New Orleans Saints. Not only is this team 11-0, which is far and away the best start in club history, but they’re gaining steam. And while this isn’t quite a perfect team, it’s awfully close.
Tonight’s numbers tell the story of why this team is undefeated going into December. Drew Brees was 18 of 23 for 371 yards, five touchdowns – to five different receivers – and no interceptions. And this happened not against a patsy like Detroit or Kansas City; it happened against New England.
Brees long ago entered the realm of the league’s superhero quarterbacks. Tonight he served notice that as good as Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning might be, Manning is trying to keep up with Brees – not the other way around.
But the Saints’ quality doesn’t stop there. Brees’ receiving corps is the most balanced, deepest and most dangerous in the NFL. The Saints have a three-headed monster in the backfield with Mike Bell, Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. Jeremy Shockey and David Thomas are the best pair of receiving tight ends in the league. The offensive line does the best job of protecting the quarterback in the NFL, and that’s without Jammal Brown, a Pro Bowler, at left tackle; the job Jermon Bushrod has done replacing Brown this year puts Saints GM Mickey Loomis in a position to consider shopping Brown in the offseason for a first-round draft pick – that makes for an embarrassment of riches on a team which seems to shed opening-day starters as a result of injuries on a routine basis without losing any measurable production.
The Saints’ defensive performance is what has made the difference between the .500 clubs of the past two years and the superlative season the club is currently enjoying. New Orleans has now lost Tracy Porter, Jabari Greer, Leigh Torrance and Randall Gay to injuries, though Porter, Greer and Gay should return to action before the end of the season. Most NFL teams with their top three cornerbacks on the injured list would be dead in the water in pass defense – instead, this team brings “washed-up” veterans Chris McAllister and Mike McKenzie in off the street and cobbles together a more than creditable pass defense which holds Tom Brady to a pedestrian 21-of-36, 237-yard performance with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
New Orleans doesn’t do a great job against the run, which is the Saints’ only real weakness. That could eventually be an undoing, as a team like Minnesota with a running back like Adrian Peterson could present a formidable playoff challenge. But teams have posted big rushing numbers on the Saints on a number of occasions this year and found themselves unable to match Brees’ artistry in the air.
And at the end of the day, unless the relatively mediocre remaining schedule (3-8 Washington, 6-5 Atlanta, 8-3 Dallas, 4-7 Carolina and 1-10 Tampa Bay) befalls the Saints home-field advantage awaits in the playoffs. And after the abuse New England endured tonight it’s difficult to imagine anyone overcoming the snake-pit the Superdome has become.
A Super Bowl for the Saints? What was once an impossible dream may be mere weeks away.