BAYHAM: Saints Avenge Ryan, Return to Form

After the latest embarrassment of LSU at the hands of Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, I don’t think Louisiana football fans could have endured a Saints loss to the Dallas Cowboys the following evening.
Well maybe the Shreveport folks are an exception.
The Black and Gold came up big before a national audience, setting league and franchise(s) records while also exacting a load of revenge for the team’s first year defense coordinator with a 49-17 triumph over the hated for some reason Dallas Cowboys.
Seriously, why do locals hate Dallas so much?
They never beat us in a playoff game, our head coach and defensive coordinator worked there prior to coming to the Crescent City and Jerry Jones probably had as much to do with the Saints’ return from San Antonio as Tom Benson.
Also the Saints haven’t played in the same division as the Cowboys since the days of the NFL (no sic) Capitol Division in the late sixties.
I digress, but I will always dislike the Niners, Bears, Buccaneers and Falcons more than the Cowboys.
The win was a return to form for a team that was looking less like a serious Super Bowl contender in losses against the New York Jets and the New England Patriots.
Even the 18-point victory over the visiting /injury decimated Buffalo Bills didn’t seem that impressive. Granted the Cowboys were a MASH unit going into the contest with the Saints and suffered additional personnel losses during the game.
That said the Saints struggled against a free-agent emaciated and injury-hobbled Patriots team in New Orleans’ first loss of the season.
The biggest improvement was the solid play by the Saints’ offensive line that not only afforded quarterback Drew Brees time to pass but even more significantly, created holes for the team’s moribund running game allowing the running backs a chance to finally contribute.
And there was no bigger beneficiary of the o-line’s run blocking than Scott Shanle’s successor as the team”goat,” running back Mark Ingram.
Ingram had the game of his professional career in prime time, breaking the century mark in rushing yards in a game and averaging ten yards a carry.
For a running back whose average “ypc” too often resembled his jersey number (22 with a decimal in between), Ingram needed this game.
You could see the elation through Ingram’s facemask when he hit his knees in the endzone after running in for a touchdown.
Equally ecstatic with the outcome was Rob Ryan.  A week after losing to his twin brother (again), Ryan gave his former employers in Dallas a taste of firer’s-remorse.
Even the Cowboys’ owner was saying mea culpa (or as close as his DNA allows him) after the Saints’ offense established a new NFL record for first downs en route to victimizing the Cowboys defense for the most yards ever surrendered in team history.
Jones  conceded that his team’s defensive woes last season had as much to do with players being sidelined as it did with the man playing the hand the injury list dealt him.
The Saints’ cause was further helped by better officiating than they experienced on the road in Foxborough and East Rutherford.
The Saints were running on all cylinders with two exceptions.  Offensive tackle Charles Brown continues to be the weak link in the o-line chain and kicker Garrett Hartley missed yet another field goal attempt.
Brown’s time on the team will likely end after the Saints’ last post-season game while head coach Sean Payton might consider giving Hartley some company in special teams, as he did the last time the kicker had a case of the “Finkels,” though such a move would cost a roster spot the team needs.
The Saints will need to continue playing at this level with games against the Forty-Niners, Falcons, Seahawks and Panthers coming up in consecutive weeks, a four game series that will determine not only playoff seeding but whether the team claims the division.
Keeping Up with Competition
As if the Who Dat Nation needed any more reason to further hate their historic bete noires from the old NFC West, the Niners and the Falcons provided no indirect help for the Saints’ playoff positioning, with San Francisco dropping a one-point game to the Carolina Panthers and the Dirty Birds losing to the Seattle Seahawks.
Seattle remains a game and a half over the Saints for the first spot in the NFC while the Panthers trail the Black and Gold by a game in the NFC South.
Also of note, the Detroit Lions are only a game behind the Saints for the other first round playoff bye.
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