WASHINGTON — If you’ve been a loyal reader of these NFL Recaps and Wraps here, you might remember that I eulogized the New Orleans Saints a couple of years ago.
I’m here to say these Saints have risen.
For most of the last half-decade, New Orleans has been a team reliant on future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Drew Brees to carry a team with a lousy defense and an anemic run game to victory, and typically those victories topped out at about seven per year (the Saints finished 7-9 in four of the last five seasons).
Sunday, the Saints marched into Buffalo and not only dealt the Bills their first (and likely worst) home loss of the season, but a 47-10 dismantling of both an AFC playoff contender and the longtime notion that Brees has to be the catalyst for New Orleans to win consistently.
The Saints made history at Buffalo’s expense, running wild to the tune of 295 yards and six touchdowns, the first team to do so in 50 years. New Orleans is also the first team to have six rushing touchdowns and no punts in a game since George Halas’ 1941 Chicago Bears — a team that went on to win a championship that year.
If you haven’t been paying attention to New Orleans, it’s time you do. The Saints are in the midst of a historic seven-game win streak, thoroughly dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. They’ve won these last seven games by an average margin of 18.7 points, the only one-score game coming in an eight-point victory over Chicago that was only close because of a pair of Mark Ingram fumbles.
Speaking of Ingram, he’s been the lead dog of this dominant rushing attack. Sunday’s 131-yard, 3 TD effort has him at 672 yards and 7 TDs for the season, and on pace for his second straight 1,000 campaign. Rookie Alvin Kamara — who also topped 100 yards Sunday — has been the perfect compliment, adding 417 yards at 6.5 per carry. This has the Saints run game ranked third in the NFL (142.2 yards per game at 4.6 yards per carry), and their 14 rushing TDs over the last seven games lead the league by a wide margin.
In fact, Kamara’s impact extends far beyond the run game. The third round pick is slashing through defenses by air and by ground, tallying six total touchdowns and 910 all-purpose yards. He’s the X-factor this team has lacked since the days of Reggie Bush.
However, the most incredible aspect of the Saints’ turnaround is the transformation of the defense. Four of the last five years, this was an epically awful cast of underachievers at the bottom of the rankings, giving up yards and points at a historic rate. Now, it’s a talented and opportunistic unit that doesn’t surrender much of either; the Saints are eighth in yards allowed and tied for fifth in scoring defense (18.3 points per game). Plus, they’ve returned two interceptions, a fumble and a blocked kick for touchdowns.
The defense also boasts two former head coaches on staff (coordinator Dennis Allen and linebackers coach Mike Nolan), meaning New Orleans finally has guys who know what to do with the available talent. Cam Jordan has been a force on the defensive line, safety Kenny Vacarro finally looks like he’s worth the first round pick the Saints spent on him and cornerback Marshon Lattimore is my pick to win Defensive Rookie of the Year. The success of this defense isn’t all smoke and mirrors.
Oh, and if you think all of that improvement is to pick up for an aging Brees, think again. Brees has failed to throw a TD pass in two of the last three games, and there was a time when that would have spelled doom for New Orleans.
This isn’t that time. The Saints are scoring 29.8 points per game and Brees is as efficient as ever: His 71.7 completion percentage leads the league, he has the league’s fourth-best passer rating (104.0), and his 2,398 passing yards are the sixth-most in the NFL. So basically, Brees has morphed from fantasy football stud to a clutch game manager.
The Saints picked the perfect time for this renaissance, too. My preseason Super Bowl pick, Seattle, is vulnerable thanks to injuries to the Legion of Boom and the surprise emergence of the division rival Rams. Green Bay is without Aaron Rodgers and Minnesota’s quarterback quandary is likely to keep them from a deep postseason run. It looks to me like a two-man race between New Orleans and Philadelphia for the NFC crown — and in that scenario, wouldn’t you trust Super Bowl winners Sean Payton and Drew Brees over Philly’s sophomore tandem of Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz?
Based on the way the Redskins’ defense played Sunday, the Saints’ historic win streak figures to extend to eight games when they host the ‘Skins in Week 11. New Orleans is already alongside the 1993 Cowboys as the only teams to start 0-2 and then reel off seven straight wins. As you may recall, that Dallas team didn’t lose again that year.
Don’t be surprised if the story of the 2017 New Orleans Saints ends the same way.
And don’t forget to see how the NFL Week 10 Recap ends.
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