Sure, it’s Halloween New Orleans but don’t be scared. This isn’t an apparition, a ghoulish dream or mischievous prank. Believe it or not, this is for real. The New Orleans Saints are in the thick of the playoff race, and in a not-so-great performance the Saints proved that they could win the ugly games, knocking off the Chicago Bears 20-12 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Saints continued their winning ways by sticking to a game plan featuring a balanced offense and relying on the defense to make important stops. Look, the Saints have always given lip service to sticking with the running game but until these past few weeks it has always been the “Win Another One For Us” Drew Brees show.
Not that Brees isn’t going to get his, of course.
Brees still went 23-for-28 and 299 yards, but Sunday was different in that the Saints called 30 pass plays and 30 run plays. The Saints stuck with the ground game, with Mark Ingram getting the bulk of the carries (18 carries, 75 yards) and Alvin Kamara toting the pigskin eight times for 28 yards. It’s not like the Saints were blowing a tough defense like the Bears off the line but it was impressive that they never gave up on the run.
The run game was emblematic of the day. Right when you thought Ingram was going to put the game away he fumbled twice creating a semi-dramatic finish to a ho-hum game. The passing game followed suit with Brees, outside of a lucky 53-yard connection to Ted Ginn Jr., settling to dink and dunk most of the afternoon. The Saints screen game was strong early but began to fizzle as the Bears adjusted.
On the defensive side, the Saints were lucky they were facing a rookie quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky. The defensive line didn’t get much pressure on the youngster and was saved by another strong performance by the defensive secondary. Yet, right when you were about to pat the d-backs on the back there was Vonn Bell leaving Tre McBride wide open and ripping down the sideline for 45 yards. Thankfully in the end, Marshon Lattimore — Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate — put the game away with his second interception of the year.
It was truly and up and down affair but every ugly win becomes a pretty win when you’re looking back on that win during the playoffs.
A New Team
Watching the games it’s easy to get caught up in what’s happening but it dawned on me this Sunday about what is not happening. More specifically, who is not.
This team is truly a shiny new penny. Think of all of the players, just in the past two seasons, who were so critical to the team’s success that have had no or barely any impact on this season so far.
Obviously the big changes are on the defensive side of the ball. Stephone Anthony, former first-rounder, was shipped to Miami. Akiem Hicks (now with the Bears) sent packing to the Patriots in 2015. Nick Fairley, after a great year last year, unfortunately is unable to play due to a heart condition.
It doesn’t stop there, just look at the sidelines on Sunday. Delvin Breaux hasn’t played yet this year and will create a problem team’s love to have by trying to figure out where to put another starter into the mix. Breaux’s mates in the backfield that are seeing there playing time vanish are Vonn Bell and P.J. Williams. Bell was benched for rookie Marcus Williams and P.J. Williams was replaced by Ken Crawley. Also, don’t forget Hau’oli Kikaha who was a healthy scratch the past two weeks.
This doesn’t even include the big name free agents who have come and gone. Point being, this feels like a new team and it is an exciting one to watch.
On To The Next One
The Saints look to continue their winning ways and move to 6-2 this week when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-5) at the Superdome. It’s a big week for the NFC South. With a win, the Saints can effectively end any Tampa Bay dreams of a playoff run. In the other NFC South matchup, the Carolina Panthers (5-3) host the Atlanta Falcons (4-3). A Carolina win, coupled with a Saints win, leaves the Dirty Birds two games behind the Saints at the halfway point of the season. Sure, Carolina would still only be a half-game back but the Saints own the tiebreaker over Carolina, having demolished the Panthers 34-13 in Charlotte earlier this season. Sure, there is still a lot of football left to be played but don’t pretend you’re not thinking about the playoffs.
And like a fine wine with a steak dinner, every game should be accompanied by a beverage and song.
Beer Pairing: Broken Wheel Brewery’s AP-IPA
Playlist Recommendation: Fats Domino – “Jump Children”
Around the Way
Speaking of Halloween, it’s “Do or Die” the rest of the way for the Tulane Green Wave’s bowl dreams after dropping their third in a row, a 56-26 drubbing at the hands of the Memphis Tigers (7-1). I told you getting upset by Florida International would come back to haunt them. Tulane (3-5) has to win three of four to get a bowl bid and will be favored in the next two games (Cincinnati, East Carolina) and will need one upset in the last two games (Houston, SMU) to put another feather in Coach Fritz’s cap and send the Wave back to their first bowl game since 2013.
Believe it or not, college basketball is right around the corner. The Tulane Men’s Basketball team kicks off their exhibition season with a game against the LSU Tigers on Halloween night at 7:30 p.m. So, if you’re one of those local folks who just love to talk smack about the team up the river then you have no reason not to shell out five bucks, yes only $5, to come and support the Green Wave. It’s all for charity as proceeds will be donated to the American Red Cross to aid those impacted by the recent hurricanes and lets hope this becomes an annual showdown.
*Last photo: tulanegreenwave.com