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New Orleans Saints gain momentum with 34-19 win over Seattle

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Michael DeMocker, The Times-Picayune MICHAEL DeMOCKER / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE Saints running back Julius Jones reacts to scoring against his former team on a play called back for holding during the game between the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks at the Superdome on Sunday, November 21, 2010.

By James Varney

Flashing the sort of offense for which they are famous, the New Orleans Saints built a big lead Sunday and then coasted home for a 34-19 victory over the Seattle Seahawks at the Superdome.

The win was the team’s third in a row as New Orleans (7-3) enters a very short week of preparation before playing at Dallas on Thanksgiving.

Coach Sean Payton declined to characterize the Saints as “on a roll,” saying he preferred no label at this point. On the other hand, he made it clear the team’s strong showing in November, particularly when forced to play short-handed, was positive.

“Listen, I think it’s good to be playing with some momentum,” he said. “I don’t think we need to call it anything other than we’ve won our third game in a row and now we get on to our next challenge, which is a very short week.”

Quarterback Drew Brees, however, could not suppress a smile.

“That’s three wins in a row and this is the point where you want to be playing your best,” he said.

Brees certainly appears to be peaking, after completing 29 of 43 passes for 382 yards and four touchdowns. In the process, he became the franchise’s all-time leader in completions and extended his own Saints record for 300-yard passing games to 35.

To be sure, there were other heroes. Wide receivers Marques Colston and Robert Meachem each had a pair of touchdown catches, and running back Chris Ivory delivered another stellar performance, electrifying the 70,015 inside the Superdome with powerful runs that often required four or more Seahawks to hit him before he went down. Ivory lugged it 23 times — a season high for carries on the team — and finished with 99 yards and a touchdown.

Seattle (5-5) came into the game with a throwing mentality, which is exactly what Saints’ defenders and Payton said they expected. And the Saints’ defense — playing without starting safeties Darren Sharper and Malcolm Jenkins, both of whom were included on the team’s bulging inactive list because of injuries — struggled here and there early. Payton conceded he was surprised the Seahawks went deep early as often as they did, although the plays garnered some success.

The first Saints’ defender to fall victim was cornerback Jabari Greer, who bit on a play-action fake from Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, and then watched wide receiver Mike Williams streak past him down the sideline. The play gained 68 yards, but Greer’s tenacity and speed allowed him to catch Williams from behind at the New Orleans 10-yard line.

That hustle wound up saving the Saints four points, as the defense held and the Seahawks settled for a 20-yard Olindo Mare field goal and a 3-0 lead.

“That’s the name of the game,” Greer said. “I gave up a couple of balls. If they see something that’s successful it’s their duty as an offense to go back at it. But you have to rise back up and be accountable to your teammates.”

Greer’s recovery set the tone for much of what would follow. With Seattle essentially abandoning any pretense of establishing the run, Hasselbeck was forced to rely on myriad screen passes. The Seahawks did move the ball — Hasselbeck finished with 32 completions on 44 attempts for 366 yards — but the Saints’ defense appeared to gain ferocity whenever Seattle approached the end zone. Consequently, Seattle had to settle for field goals four times.

“It wasn’t always pretty or clean, but I thought we played real hard with a lot of energy and effort,” Payton said, noting the team got major contributions from players who had to step up and perform because of injuries.

Almost all of the Saints’ best work was done in the first half, when they rode Ivory’s power and Brees’ surgical precision to take a 27-16 lead.

Building off big first-down pickups on third down early in the drives, the Saints put together a pair of 80-yard scoring marches. Ivory scored first with 1:30 left in the first quarter, diving from the 1-yard line and vaulting over a pile into the end zone.

Then, after another Mare field goal had made it 7-6, Brees threaded a pass between two converging Seattle defenders that Colston gathered in at the 5-yard line. The defenders hit Colston and fell, Colston gathered himself and plunged into the end zone on a 23-yard play to make it 14-7 with 10:17 to go before halftime.

A 3-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Meachem extended the Saints’ lead to 21-6, but despite those fireworks foolish football by both teams produced a scoring spurt in the final two minutes. After Seattle polished off its only touchdown drive of the half with a 2-yard flick from Hasselbeck to Ben Obomanu, the Seahawks’ defense appeared to stop the Saints on their subsequent possession.

But, as Brees’ third-down pass fluttered incomplete, defensive end Raheem Brock was flagged for roughing the passer. The 15-yard penalty kept New Orleans’ drive alive, and Brees made Seattle pay dearly for its mental error when he hit Colston on a 22-yard strike to make the score 27-13 with one minute remaining.

The Saints’ big mistake came on the next play, when kicker Garrett Hartley’s pop up went out of bounds and gave the Seahawks the ball on the 40-yard line. A holding call and an intentional grounding penalty on Hasselbeck appeared to push the Seahawks out of scoring range, but Hasselbeck found receiver Brandon Stokley — who played quite well after being hurt all week — for an 18-yard gain on a second-and-30, and Mare kicked a 43-yard field goal on the last play of the half to cut the Saints’ lead.

The second half was a sloppier, considerably more desultory affair.

Brees threw a pair of interceptions, one of which Seahawks linebacker David Hawthorne picked off at the Seattle goal line, squelching what appeared to be a sure scoring drive. The second came in the end zone on the next-to-last play of the game when the outcome had been long since decided.

Other than Meachem’s second touchdown in the third quarter, a 32-yard grab that capped yet another 80-yard drive, and Mare’s final field goal, a 20-yarder with 5:26 left, there was no other second-half scoring. Mare’s field goal came after the Saints made another inspired defensive stand, holding Seattle out of the end zone after it had a first down at the 6-yard line.

Payton acknowledged the Saints did not turn the game into quite the rout it seemed it would become early. But the players were unperturbed by the low second-half scoring. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod said he thought the team moved the ball well and, but for a missed assignment or a penalty here and there, would have lit the scoreboard up even more.

“No, not at all,” Bushrod said when asked if the Saints eased off a bit in the second half. “I thought we drove the ball well. We had a couple of things happen that we didn’t overcome or wished hadn’t happened, but there was no complacency in what we were doing at all. I think we played well — we had a breakdown here or a breakdown there, but we came out with 34 points.”

The trick now will be replicating that with almost no rest and against a Cowboys team that has won two in a row.

“You can enjoy this victory for a couple of hours and then it’s back to the drawing board,” Bushrod said.

Written by demon53

November 22, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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