Whoa. Duuuude. That was close. Really close. Waayyyy closer than it should have been. I really thought the Saints would march into Atlanta and burn the Georgia Dome down like General Sherman. But the men in black seem to find themselves in these supertight, last drive decides it, oh-my-God-how’s-it-gonna-end games a lot this year. Eight such contests in 2010 have been decided by a touchdown or less. Here’s the good news – they’re 6-2 in such close battles, with the two losses coming to the Falcons in their first meeting, and the Ravens loss two weeks ago. I believe this is what Brees means by “Battle Tested”. Can you win the tough ones? Can you deliver when everyone’s counting on you? Can you overcome adversity, especially if you bring it on yourselves (see Brees’ two fourth quarter picks)? It might not be so great for the collective mental health of the Who Dat Nation, but it’s nice to know there’s always hope with number nine in the huddle. And let’s not forget the defense that is apparently lacking in any Pro Bowl talent – this collection of just so-so players held the Falcons’ offense to just seven points – and won this game.
The Pro Bowl snubs will only add fuel to Gregg Williams’ fire and brimstone style of motivation as the Saints march into the playoffs (No Vilma? Greer? Harper? Jenkins? Really? Come on!). And it’s a good thing too, because the offense will be under attack from now on. The Falcons came in with a surprising, and well executed, plan to stop Brees – send the house at him every time. Lucky Pierre got 67 hard-earned yards on the ground, but it took him 17 carries. And without a more consistent running attack (Ivory? Anyone seen Ivory?) to keep defenses honest, expect opposing Ds to keep on dialing up the pressure. I’m sure Payton and Brees are practicing the counter attack for this right now, but until they burn a few blitzes, there’s going to be lots more of that.
Tampa Bay has impressed by being a year or two ahead of schedule. Josh Freeman, and the 85 rookies starting for the Bucs, are playing like a team that’s been together for years. Much like Atlanta and Carolina, they’re going to want to play keep away from the Saints O (All the NFC South teams are now built, or being built, to beat the Saints) by pounding undrafted free agent LaGarrette Blount inside and outside all day. Williams, Stroughter, Spurlock, and Winslow lead an underrated receiving corps that makes tough catches on third down. The Bucs will provide some tough games for the Saints for years to come – but not this year. Here’s what Madden had to say:
No Marcus Colston for this matchup. Wonder how Meachem and Henderson will do without his steady presence? Tampa gets the ball and promptly goes three and out, but Brees throws an INT. Greer gets his hands on an errant Freeman pass the next play.
Greer taking candy from a very large baby.
The Saints march to an 11-yard Meachem TD. Vilma grabs another INT on the next possession and P. Thomas catches an 11-yard TD. Yet another Bucs three and out is punctuated by a Vilma sack.
That no- count, no Pro Bowlin’ m-effer Jonathan Vilma!
The ensuing drive ends with Meachem’s second TD, this time from 16 yards out. Tampa goes to the air and the Bucs’ Stovall catches a TD. Hartley tacks on a 35 -ard FG. Shockey hauls in a TD and Stroughter catches another Tampa TD. Henderson burns the Bucs with little time left in the half on a 71-yard TD bomb to send the game into half time with the Saints up 38-14.
You’re not going to catch Henderson. Nanny, nanny, boo boo!
Saints are stoned on third and one at the goal, settling for a 20-yard Hartley FG. Greer picks off his second INT followed by another 38-yard Hartley FG. Spurlock scores on a ridiculous hail Mary. Shockey answers with his second TD to finish the scoring.
Bucs bring the house and Brees makes them pay.
Final Score: Saints 51- Bucs 21. Rushing: Ivory 7-31, P. Thomas 7-38, Bush 4-52. Receiving: Meachem 4-63, 2 TDs, Shockey 4-56, 2TDs, P. Thomas 3-23, TD, Henderson 2-80, TD. Hartley 3/3 in FGAs, long of 38, 6/6 XPs. Player of the Game Drew Brees completes 19 of 26, for 6 TDs and 1 INT.
Looking forward to: It’s a ways away, and hard to predict, but wouldn’t it be great to see the Saints put an end to the Bears overachieving season? After hearing stories of how Bears fans treated their Who Dat visitors in the 2006 NFC Championship, I can’t wait.
Not looking forward to: No Colston. He’s always drawing the attention of at least two defenders. Look for Payton to call Reggie, PT’s, and the tight end’s numbers a lot in his absence.
Media Prediction: The NFC playoffs will become a secondary story – useful only for Michael Vick discussions and in determining who will lose to the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Then watch the Pats lose to the Steelers in the AFC title game.
Madden Tip: Carolina has been bad this season but it is quite possible for them to beat the Falcons. Their D can stop Matty Ice and Co., and in my research (cough, cough) game, Clausen throws three TDs to Steve Smith in a 28-21 victory. Wishful thinking, I know, but the Panthers are not as bad as their record makes it seem. It’s been a great season playing Madden and writing about it for all of you. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed my bullshit! Looking forward to pulling even more out of my ass for the playoffs! Two Dat! Sincerely, Chris Lee, Fake Football Expert.