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2012 NFL Playoffs: Quick-Hit Reactions from Lions vs. Saints

Despite trailing at halftime, the Saints rolled to a 45-28 victory over the Lions on Saturday night to advance to the Divisional round of the 2012 NFL Playoffs. Here are quick-hit reactions from this Wildcard shootout.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (C) dives for a first down against the Detroit Lions during the third quarter of their NFL NFC wildcard playoff football game in New Orleans, Louisiana, January 7, 2012. REUTERS/Sean Gardner (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- What Drew Brees does is almost surgical. If he has time to survey the field, he always goes vertical. I’m talking 9, 20, 40-yard strikes down the field. If he feels pressure, he has a trio of backs at his disposal that are elusive, powerful, and can create yards after contact when they slip out of the backfield. If he sees that a blitz is coming, he knows exactly where to go with the ball at all times. (Although it makes it easier when the defense leaves your 6’6” tight end wide open at the goal line. I mean, he’s 6’6” – the Lions couldn’t find him?) Granted, Brees has a ton of help. Marques Colston made a huge mistake in the first quarter when he fumbled the ball to kill a potential New Orleans scoring drive, but he’s as good as them come. Pierre Thomas ran tonight like he did back in the ’09 postseason and somewhere Chargers GM A.J. Smith is kicking himself for letting Darren Sproles leave San Diego. Jimmy Graham is a freak of nature and when all of those weapons aren’t available, Brees still has Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem (when he’s not dropping wide-open passes) and Lance Moore (when healthy) in his back pocket. This is a well-oiled machine New Orleans has here, and Brees is the absolute perfect captain to be at the controls.

- Want to know how the Saints score 40-plus points at home every week? Try 7-of-11 on third down and 3-of-4 on fourth down. When an offense constantly picks up third downs, it absolutely deflates a defense and that leads to points. Detroit clearly didn’t believe it could stop Brees tonight and it didn’t.

- That said, it’ll be interesting to see how the Saints fare now that they have to go on the road for one, and possibly two games over these next couple of weeks. There’s no question they’re a different team away from the Superdome, as Sean Payton has a tendency to get less aggressive and the defense doesn’t perform as well. San Francisco owns the best defense in the NFC playoff pool this year, so we’re about to find out how good this New Orleans offense is on the road. What a great matchup next weekend in San Fran.

- Lions fans will note that several calls didn’t go their way tonight, and they have every right to. But it’s hard to win when your defense can’t get off the field on third and fourth down, when your players don’t wrap up, when you turn two first-half turnovers into zero points, and when two of your defensive backs drop sure interceptions. There’s no question that Detroit got the short end of the stick when it came to penalties. No question. There were several missed holding calls on the Saints’ Pro Bowl linemen throughout the night, a bad spot on third-and-11 in the third quarter that gave New Orleans a first down (which led to a score), and of course, a blown whistle that most likely would have led to a Lions’ touchdown on Brees’ fumble in the first half. But the Lions failed to do the basics tonight and it cost them. Bad officiating or not, when you can’t tackle and take advantage of potential turnovers then you’re not going to win most games.

- One thing the Lions did do a great job of in the first half was get pressure on Brees with just their front four. Outside of the two Saints’ turnovers, that’s the main reason they held a lead heading into halftime. But about midway through the third quarter that pass rush dropped off and Detroit’s overmatched secondary was exposed. It’s unfair to play the defensive line for how things unraveled in the second half, because the bottom line is that the Lions’ defensive backfield made zero plays tonight. But the difference between the two quarters is that Brees was under duress in the first, and had time to find open receivers int he second. (And I mean wide open receivers.)

- As long as Matthew Stafford stays healthy Detroit fans won’t have to go another 11 years before they see their Lions play in another postseason game. That dude is for real. That 42-yard rainbow that he dropped perfectly into the hands of Calvin Johnson in the third quarter was beautiful and he had a handful of other passes that were right on the money. It’s not that he has a big arm: he has a big, accurate arm. He’s going to be an elite quarterback one day. (Again, if he can stay healthy.)

- I don’t know how defenses are supposed to cover Calvin Johnson. He’s obviously going to make plays when he’s open but there were several times when two New Orleans defenders were draped all over him and he still came down with the football. And if you make a mistake in coverage like the Saints’ corner did while playing Cover 2 on Johnson’s corner route in the second quarter, it’s almost a guaranteed touchdown (which it was). It’s amazing to think that one of the knocks on him coming out of college was that he sometimes lost focus. The guy has transformed into one of the best players in the game – focus on that.

- I thought Scott Linehan called a very good game until things got out of hand in the fourth quarter. He stayed aggressive throughout, which is something that most opponents won’t do when facing the Saints because they’re petrified to give the ball back to Brees and that offense, and constantly had New Orleans’ defense guessing. But at some point the Lions will need to find more offensive balance. Granted, they did lose starting running back Jahvid Best earlier this season due to a concussion, but 32 rushing yards on 10 carries isn’t going to cut it. Not against the Saints, not against anyone. When a defense doesn’t have to worry about stopping the run, they can drop extra defenders back or blitz effectively off the edge. New Orleans had to worry about one thing tonight: Stopping Calvin Johnson. (Uh, which they didn’t, but at least their offense scored 45 points to make up for it.)

- There’s no doubt that fans will be disappointed after this game. But the Lions made the playoffs this season. That’s fantastic. You won’t find a more loyal fan base than the one up in Detroit, so hats off to you Lions fans – your team finally made the top 12 again. Hopefully it’ll be a regular occurrence moving forward…

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Pierre Thomas was nearly a Patriot

NEW ORLEANS - AUGUST 21: Pierre Thomas  of the New Orleans Saints scores a touchdown against the Houston Texans at the Louisiana Superdome on August 21, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

According to Brian Allee-Walsh of NewOrleans.com, the Saints nearly traded running back Pierre Thomas to the Patriots leading up to the October 19 deadline.

The Saints were reportedly targeting a cornerback but talks fell through after New England asked for a draft pick to be thrown into the deal. Thomas has missed the last five games due to an ankle injury.

It’s not surprising to hear that the Saints nearly dealt Thomas considering how frustrated coach Sean Payton has been with his running back’s injury issues over the last two years. Thomas was a vital piece down the stretch run last year, but he can never stay healthy. Not having Thomas and Reggie Bush in their backfield has hurt the Saints this season, as Payton’s offense has lost its balance.

On the injury front, Thomas told the media on Thursday that doctors found something else wrong with his ankle when they re-examined him last week. That said, he was also told he can ditch his crutches during the Saints’ bye in Week 10, which is a positive sign for his status the rest of the year.

Captain Morgan NFL Halloween Weekend Preview

Make your Holiday legendary with Captain and Cola. Join the party on Facebook!

Captain Morgan and The Scores Report have teamed up to preview this Sunday’s games in the NFL and in the spirit of Halloween, here are a couple frightening matchups that players/teams face this weekend.

1. Steelers @ Saints: Drew Brees vs. Pittsburgh’s Defense
You can bet that the fans in New Orleans will be dressed up for this one, although they’re always dressed up so what’s the difference? If Brees thought the Browns abused him last week, he’s in for a real treat (trick or treat? Ah, hahahahahaha…Halloween) this Sunday night with Pittsburgh coming to town. The Steelers are second in the NFL in yards allowed and first in both run defense and points allowed. Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush look like they’re bowing out of this matchup and who could blame them? If Brees can’t move the ball through the air, he’s in for a long night.

2. Packers @ Jets: Aaron Rodgers vs. Rex Ryan’s Front Seven
Aaron Rodgers can’t be feeling too good about things these days. His offensive line is once again banged up, he doesn’t have much of a running game at his disposal, his second best receiver (Donald Driver) is also injured and he’s facing a well-rested Rex Ryan defense coming off its bye week. Oh yeah – and Darrelle Revis (hamstring) is completely healthy now, too. There’s no doubt Ryan will throw the kitchen sink at Rodgers in terms of looks and expect the Jets to send extra defenders early and often. It’s going to be a real freight fest in East Rutherford this weekend! Hahahaha – weeeeeeeeeeee!

3. Vikings @ Patriots: Favre, Vikings vs. the prospects of another loss
Brett Favre’s consecutive starts streak isn’t the only thing on the line this Sunday when the Vikings travel to Foxboro. At 2-4, Minnesota is already two games back in the win column in the NFC North and another loss will sink its postseason hopes even more. If Favre can’t go, Tarvaris Jackson will start and that means Adrian Peterson will have to shoulder the workload. Of course, even if Favre starts, Brad Childress may want to keep the ball in AP’s hands anyway. Given how well the Patriots have played at home under Bill Belichick, this isn’t the matchup the Vikings needed to get back on track. They should be spooked (spooked! Hahahahaha…Halloween) out of their minds right now.

4. Broncos vs. 49ers: London vs. the worst matchup in NFL history
Okay, I’m exaggerating – this isn’t the worst matchup in NFL history. The worst matchup in NFL history would probably be the ’08 Lions vs. the ’09 Rams. Now that’s scary (scary! Halloooooweeeeeennnn theme!). That said, the folks out in London can’t be too thrilled with this one. The 49ers and Broncos have combined for three wins this year and 11 losses and while San Fran couldn’t beat a previous winless Panthers team last Sunday, Denver is coming off a loss in which they gave up 59 points to the Raiders…at home, no less. With apologies to Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, talk about a starless game for the London crowd.

5. Jaguars @ Cowboys: David Garrard vs. Jon Kitna
Look, there’s nothing funny about this matchup. It seriously is frightening and the thought of anyone paying money to see this horror show is terrifying. Happy Halloween, Dallas!

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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.

Injuries are starting to catch up with the Saints

NEW ORLEANS - OCTOBER 03: Drew Brees  of the New Orleans Saints throws the ball against the Carolina Panthers at the Louisiana Superdome on October 3, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. of the Carolina Panthers (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

How does a winless, hopeless and inferior Carolina Panther team take the defending Super Bowl champs to the brink before finally succumbing to defeat?

Injuries – that’s how.

There’s definitely something wrong with the Saints and while we could try to search for a deeper meaning to their recent struggles, I think the reason is simple. They’re just too banged up on the offensive side of the ball and we better get used to lackluster wins like their 16-14 victory today until they’re healthy again.

Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas were both sidelined for New Orleans against Carolina and it showed. Drew Brees still managed to complete 33-of-48 passes for 275 yards and a touchdown, but the Panthers knew New Orleans couldn’t run the ball so they stayed back in coverage and allowed Brees to complete underneath passes. To Brees’ credit, he took what the defense gave him and led his team to a much-needed victory following last weekend’s overtime loss to the Falcons.

But Brees isn’t 100% either. He wore a brace on his sprained knee and although it didn’t look like it affected him too much, he was still hampered. Brees’ injury coupled with Bush and Thomas being held out, and suddenly the Saints look incredibly vulnerable.

Of course, this is the price that the defending champs pay. Every game is the opponent’s Super Bowl and when injuries pop up, you just have to deal with them and find ways to win. That’s what the Saints did on Sunday and while it wasn’t pretty, at the end of the day victories are all that matters.

Speaking of injuries, Panthers’ receiver Steve Smith suffered a high ankle sprain today and at the moment, there’s no timetable for his return. This news must make rookie Jimmy Clausen incredibly happy, as Smith has lived in the rookie’s ear for the past two weeks. I thought Smith may murder Clausen and leave his body on the Superdome carpet after Clausen wasn’t paying attention to the playclock and the Panthers had to burn a timeout.

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