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

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