It’s official: The wedding night and honeymoon are over for the Saints

NEW ORLEANS - AUGUST 27: Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints watches a play during the game against the San Diego Chargers at the Louisiana Superdome on August 27, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints defeated the Chargers 36-21. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The Saints are currently in post-Super Bowl hell.

Every week, their opponent acts is if its their Super Bowl, which means New Orleans will get everyone’s best effort from here on out.

Every week, defensive coordinators want to be the one that comes up with the game plan that beat Sean Payton’s offense.

And that means that every week, teams like the Cardinals have an opportunity to pull off an upset.

In Arizona on Sunday, the Cardinals recovered two fumbles for touchdowns and returned an interception for a touchdown to shock New Orleans, 30-20. It was exactly the type of defensive effort the Cards needed since they were starting an undrafted rookie quarterback in Max Hall, who made his fair share of mistakes but went on to complete 17-of-27 passes for 168 yards and an interception. He took way too many hits, but he targeted Larry Fitzgerald (7 catches, 93 yards) nine times, spread the ball around effectively and most importantly, he pulled off a win in his first career start.

Not bad for a rookie considering whom his opponent was.

At 3-2, it isn’t time to start making definitive statements about the Saints. But it’s safe to say that this isn’t the same team that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy back in February.

Drew Brees threw for 294 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday, but he was also intercepted three times and has only thrown for over 300 yards once this year (365 vs. the Falcons in Week 3). It doesn’t help that both Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas were out again this week and that the Saints couldn’t run the ball, although it may not have mattered today. Arizona’s defense swarmed to the ball and put New Orleans back on its heels for most of the game.

After the Saints lost to the Falcons, everyone figured they would get back on track quickly with the Panthers, Cardinals, Bucs and Browns on their upcoming schedule. But they barely beat the Panthers last Sunday, were soundly beaten today and will face a 3-1 Tampa team brimming with confidence next week. If they’re not careful, the Saints are going to dig themselves a hole heading towards the midway point in the season.

But that’s life for a defending champ. Every week they have a target on their backs.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

Saints dispel momentum argument

After Tim Hightower took the handoff and broke off a 70 yard touchdown run on the first play of the game on Saturday, you could almost hear the wheels turning in people’s heads.

The Saints, losers of three in a row entering Saturday’s Divisional playoff game, were about to fall victims to “Big Mo.”

But almost immediately after Hightower crossed the goal line, New Orleans reminded us of how good it was for most of the season. Drew Brees marched the Saints down to the 1-yard line on the ensuing possession and Lynell Hamilton capped the drive off with a 1-yard touchdown run. Then the Saints added a touchdown, then another, then two more before half to take a 35-14 lead.

All of a sudden, “Big Mo” was looking for a backdoor out of the Superdome to save himself from further embarrassment. The Saints added 10 more points in the second half to trounce Arizona 45-14 and set up a date with either the Cowboys or Vikings in the NFC Championship Game.

Momentum can be a crucial factor in sports. But talent, preparation and execution will win out every time. People forgot how explosive Sean Payton’s offense could be and how opportunistic Gregg Williams’ defense could be with a full complement of players. Save for Charles Grant, the Saints were almost completely healthy on the defensive side of the ball and it showed today, as they harassed Kurt Warner and held a Cardinal offense that scored 51 points last Sunday to just 14 on Saturday. They also forced two critical turnovers and could have added one more to that tally had the refs not called a cheap roughing the passer call after Darren Sharper intercepted Warner in the second quarter.

Even though they had lost their previous three games, don’t forget that Payton and his coaching staff had two weeks to prepare for the Cardinals. Teams with the top two seeds in the playoffs don’t just get an off week to rest up – they also get two full weeks to study their opponents’ weaknesses. The Saints proved today how valuable it is for teams to earn the No. 1 seed in the postseason.

Granted, New Orleans won’t be as fortunate to face a defense as bad as the one that took the field for the Cardinals over the past two weeks. But if Payton’s offense is clicking as well as it was today, then either the Cowboys or Vikings are going to have their hands full next Sunday.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Is this the end for Kurt Warner?

One of the cruel things about sports is that even great players don’t always go out on top.

Kurt Warner completed 17-of-26 pass attempts for 205 yards on Saturday, but the Saints blew out the Cardinals 45-14 to end Arizona’s bid to repeat as NFC champions. Warner also threw an interception, took one hellacious hit from Saints’ DE Bobby McCray and spent most of the afternoon looking completely out of rhythm. His performance was a stark contrast from his 379-yard, five-touchdown effort in the Cardinals’ 51-45 win over the Packers last week in overtime.

Following the loss to the Saints, Warner said that he doesn’t have a target date for his retirement decision, although he noted that it wouldn’t be a long process. Knowing how classy Warner is, he won’t announce a decision before the Super Bowl, as to not take any attention away from the final two teams.

The fan in me hopes that Warner will return next season. He proved again this year that he can still perform at a high level and the Cardinals’ window of opportunity is far from closing. But given how involved he is with charities and special projects off the field, nobody will be surprised if he decides to hang up his cleats for good in the offseason.

If he does decide to call it a career, there’s nothing left that he has to prove. He’s been the consummate professional and one heck of a player.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Bush torches Cardinals in Saints’ rout

This season hasn’t necessarily been kind to Reggie Bush. On his way to rushing for only 390 yards (his lowest of his career) and 335 passing yards (his lowest of his career), he was criticized for his lack of toughness and one-dimensional style of play.

On Saturday, Bush reminded everyone why some considered him the best athlete coming out of the 2006 NFL Draft. He rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown on just five carries, caught four passes for 24 yards and returned an 83-yard punt for a score in the Saints’ 45-14 rout of the Cardinals in the Divisional playoffs.

Bush ran with the kind of determination and toughness that he lacked all season. He was explosive, made spectacular cuts on the fast Superdome surface and took advantage of yet another brutal tacking effort by Arizona’s defense. He also ran north and south instead of trying to dance around at the line of scrimmage. There haven’t been too many times where I’ve seen Bush put his head down and run through a tackle like he did today.

When a team racks up 45 points and 418 yards of total offense, more than one player contributed in the success. Drew Brees completed 23 of 32 passes for 247 yards and threw for three touchdowns, while Pierre Thomas rushed for 52 yards on 13 carries and Marques Colston hauled in six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. Devery Henderson also chipped in 80 receiving yards and a touchdown on four catches, while Jeremy Shockey caught three passes for 36 yards and a touchdown.

But nobody ignited the Saints’ offense more than Bush. The move he made on an Arizona defender on his 46-yard touchdown run was sick and the burst he exhibited on his 83-yard punt return was impressive. He may not be able to consistently run between the tackles, but he proved his worth today.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

NFL Divisional Round Playoff Prediction: Cardinals vs. Saints

Arizona Cardinals (10-6, 6-2 away) at New Orleans Saints (13-3, 6-2 home)
Kickoff: 4:30PM ET
Odds: Saints –7

The Saints have plenty to be concerned with entering this game, none bigger than the fact that they’ve stumbled into the playoffs by losing their last three regular season games. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have the momentum after beating the Packers last week and the more recent postseason experience after earning a trip to the Super Bowl last season.

That said, people tend to forget how good New Orleans was in the regular season. And now that they’re at full health, we’re going to see a different Saints team this Saturday then we did in the final three weeks of the season. Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis appears healthy, which will help NO stop Beanie Wells and Arizona’s running game. With Ellis in the lineup, the Saints are a different team and one that can force opponents to be one-dimensional. Kurt Warner is excellent at making reads and getting the ball out of his hand quickly, but he and the rest of the Cardinals’ offense will have a harder time scoring in the red zone than they’re used to. New Orleans has the second best red zone defense in the league and safety Darren Sharper has shined when the Saints have their backs against their own goal line.

Read the rest of this entry »

Related Posts