POSTED Mon. Oct 28, 2013
State of the Saints: An ugly win on the Bills, pretty hair on Rob Ryan

It’s the end of October, and Thursday’s Bengals vs. Dolphins Halloween matchup will close out the month of pink-hued, women’s health awareness-flavored football. I don’t know much about Cincinnati, but it seems like the kind of place people would be sitting around and watching football on Halloween.

It’s also the halfway point of the season, and the postseason tea leaves are becoming easier to decipher. The Saints did not play a great game, but they still thumped the inferior Bills, staying a couple of games ahead of the Panthers for the divisional lead. The wildcard-relevant teams in the NFC are the 6-2 49ers (a virtual lock), 5-3 Lions, 4-3 Bears (unlikely to matriculate) and the 4-3 Panthers, who are definitely in the mix.

The Saints seemed destined to win by 49 points when we forced a fumble from undrafted free agent Thad Lewis on the first play from scrimmage. But it was a strange and ugly first quarter, as the Saints went three and out and missed the field goal. The Bills drove a little and missed one of their own. We gave the ball right back to them, forced another fumble, and Lance scored a “welcome back” touchdown consummated by a strange but satisfying dance. The strangest moment of the quarter was Brees getting called for two false starts in a row on 3rd and 1, pushing the Saints back to a 3rd and 11 they failed to convert and a second missed field goal.

The dawn of the second quarter found the Saints ahead 7-0 in a game it seemed like we should be winning 20-0. Then Thad Lewis marches the Bills down the field and Stevie Johnson burns Vaccaro for a touchdown and I start to get nervous. After another Saints punt and a Bills field goal I am legitimately uncomfortable.

But Brees and the Saints, looking sloppy after a week off, needed to taste their own blood for motivation to keep the streak alive. The Saints were not down for very long, as Brees threw the first of his four subsequent touchdowns on the following drive. Kenny Stills torched the coverage to reel in the 69 yard go-ahead score, and the Saints would control the game on both sides of the ball for the rest of the afternoon. As the time of possession scales tipped in New Orleans’ favor, the Bills defense that had started so strong began to fizzle out.

Stills caught another touchdown in the second half. Jimmy Graham, playing a very limited amount of snaps with a partially torn plantar fascia, was able to reel in two touchdown catches as well. Both of these involved a catch on an intermediate middle route and muscling through a tackle for the end zone plane. His injury wasn’t readily apparent aside from his lack of dunking.

Brees’ NFL record for most games with 5 or more TD passes now stands at eight.

Pierre Thomas is still our best multi-purpose, every-down back. He rushed 14 times for 65 yards (4.6 avg) and caught 3 passes, mostly well-executed screens, for 29 yards. He always falls forward, always gets that second effort positive yardage and he rarely makes mistakes.

The defense played well but not spectacularly, and it was fortunate that we were playing against a backup quarterback and running back. We threw a lot of nice blitz packages at them, often sneaking a linebacker or defensive back through gaping passages into their backfield. Rob Ryan’s squad sacked Thad Lewis four times, two of these forcing first quarter fumbles, and picked him off once. The Bills’ other score came off of back-to-back roughing the quarterback penalties that kept the drive alive and put them inside the five yard line. The Saints defense has held every team but the Patriots to under 20 points thus far.

This Sunday we travel to New York for the Ryan Bowl. Rex’s Jets got completely slaughtered by the Bengals yesterday and will be trying to regroup at home in their quest for a wide-open AFC wildcard spot. This week will be filled media coverage of Ryan vs. Ryan and I’m hoping the mind games on the field live up to the hype.

A win this weekend would be huge as we move into the most difficult stretch of our schedule. We’re better than the Jets. We have the better Ryan. And is it just me or is this hair getting better and better

Image courtesy of the New Orleans Saints.

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