In yet another primetime showdown, the New Orleans Saints had the opportunity to take a two game lead over the rival Atlanta Falcons with a victory over the Detroit Lions at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Sunday night.
The Saints roared out to a 24-7 halftime lead and held serve sufficiently in the second half, finishing the third quarter of their season with a 31-17 victory and improving to 9-3.
Detroit outgained New Orleans 496 to 442 but suffered from lots of self-inflicted injury, racking up 11 penalties for 109. Though the Saintsâ€™ defense struggled, linebacker Jonathan Vilma tallied 10 tackles in his return to the field after injury sidelined him for three games.
Drew Brees had yet another outstanding game, completing 26 passes on 36 attempts for 342 yards and three touchdowns. Brees has already accumulated over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns on the season with four games to go.
His counterpart Matthew Stafford had a nice game in his own right, completing 31 passes on 44 attempts for 409 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Tight end Jimmy Graham caught eight passes for 89 yards, going over 1,000 yards on the season. Robert Meachem only caught three balls but had 119 receiving yards and a touchdown.
The Saints got on the board first on the strength of a 39-yard John Kasay field goal.
A Detroit punt pinned the Saints at their own three yard line, but Brees completed a 38-yard pass to Robert Meachem down the left sideline, jumpstarting an as-of-yet flat Saints offense. Brees was four for four on the 97 yard drive that culminated in a 14-yard Mark Ingram touchdown run.
Another stop put the ball back in Breesâ€™ hands, always a dangerous prospect for the opposing defense. He fired a ball to Robert Meachem downfield, who caught it and took it the rest of the way for a 67-yard touchdown. The big play extended Breesâ€™ consecutive games with a touchdown pass streak to 39.
But the Lions did get moving before the half. Utilizing screens and short passes, Stafford moved them down the field and Kevin Smith found the endzone from two yards out.
But an expertly-led two minute drill by Brees gave the Saints their 17-point lead back before the half when he connected with Lance Moore in the endzone from twenty yards out.
A defensive breakdown allowed a 49-yard Titus Young reception, setting up the Lions for a quick scoring opportunity before the half. Jason Hanson tried a 42-yarder, but Patrick Robinson deflected the kick and caused it to fall no good.
The Lionsâ€™ offense looked unstoppable on their first drive of the first half until a personal foul penalty on Young inside the Saints five yard line forced a 3rd and 16. Hanson came out again but nailed this try, a 31-yarder, to bring Detroit within 14.
Detroit was given another chance and this time didnâ€™t disappoint. They went 92 yards in nine plays, including a nine yard touchdown pass from Stafford to Maurice Morris. What appeared to be a budding blowout at the half suddenly resembled a contentious game.
Another three and out for New Orleans gave Detroit a chance to tie the game and their drive started as well as it could, with Stafford hitting Nate Burleson down the sideline for a 47-yard reception. It stalled quickly thereafter however, and Hanson had to try a long-shot 55 yarder, which he missed.
The Saints offense finally gained its first half form, mostly through Brees finding Graham. The two connected for 42 yards on the drive before Brees dumped off a six-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles to put the Saints back in the driverâ€™s seat.
With the win, Sean Payton improved to 3-0 against the Lions as Saints head coach, previously beating them in 2008 and 2009. Every meeting has been decided by double digits.
The Saints will travel to Nashville this week to take on the Tennessee Titans (7-5) next Sunday. The Lions (7-5) will head back home to take on the division rival Minnesota Vikings (2-10).Saints Postgame Notes
- Sundayâ€™s victory improved the Saintsâ€™ record to 9-3 and extended New Orleansâ€™ lead in the NFC South to two games over Atlanta (7-5).
- The Saints clinched a third consecutive winning season for only the second time in franchise history. The other stretch of three straight winning seasons came from 1987-89.
- The Saints improved to 6-0 at home for only the second time in franchise history (2009).
- New Orleans did not commit a turnover for the third consecutive game. The Saints are now 19-0 under head coach Sean Payton when not committing a turnover.
- QB Drew Brees completed 26 of 36 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns. He finished with a passer rating of 129.6.
- Brees has passed for 4,031 yards this season â€“ his sixth straight 4,000-yard season â€“ and became the first quarterback in NFL history to top the 4,000-yard mark in his teamâ€™s first 12 games of the season. He is only the second quarterback (Peyton Manning, 1999-2004) to throw for 4,000 yards in six consecutive seasons.
- Brees upped his season touchdown pass total to 30, becoming the second quarterback in NFL history to have four consecutive seasons of 30 or more TD passes, joining Brett Favre (1994-98) in that group.
- Brees has nine 300-yard passing games and eight games with a passer rating of 100 or better this season. In his six years with the Saints, Brees has 46 300-yard games and 44 games with a passer rating of 100+.
- Brees has thrown a touchdown pass in 39 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in NFL history. Johnny Unitas holds the NFL record of 47.
- Brees also extended his NFL-record streak of games with 20 or more completions to 32.
- WR Robert Meachem caught three passes for 119 yards, including a 67-yard TD catch in the second quarter. It was Meachemâ€™s fourth career 100-yard receiving game and his first this season. The 119 yards are the most by a receiver against Detroit this season.
- Meachemâ€™s TD catch was the 22nd of his career, breaking a tie with former Saints TE Hoby Brenner for ninth place on the franchiseâ€™s career list for receiving TDs.
- WR Lance Mooreâ€™s 20-yard TD reception late in the second quarter was the 28th of his career, moving him into sole possession of fifth place on the Saints career list. He entered Sunday tied for fifth with Henry Childs.
- Moore has five TD catches in his last five games. Prior to that, he had just one TD reception this season.
- RB Darren Sproles had five receptions for 46 yards, increasing his season total to 522, a career-best total. His previous career high was 520 in 2010.
- TE Jimmy Graham caught eight passes for 89 yards and became the first tight end in franchise history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in a season. Graham now has 75 catches for 1,046 yards this season.
- The Lionsâ€™ second-quarter touchdown was the first TD allowed by the Saints defense in the first half since Week 8 at St. Louis. In three games in November, the Saints held opponents to 12 points in the first half, all on field goals.
- G Jahri Evans made his 92nd consecutive start, setting a Saints record for most consecutive starts at the beginning of a career. Evans broke a tie with Pro Football Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson (1981-87).
- DE Will Smith made his 100th career start.
- LB Jonathan Vilma returned to the lineup after missing the last three games and led the Saints with 10 tackles.
- CB Tracy Porter had the gameâ€™s only takeaway, a fourth-quarter interception. It was Porterâ€™s first INT since Week 2 of the 2010 season.
- LB Scott Shanleâ€™s second-quarter sack was his first since the 2008 season. He now has 8.5 career sacks.
- DE Junior Galetteâ€™s sack in the fourth quarter upped his season total to 3.5, third on the team.
Detroit Lions vs. New Orleans Saints â— Sunday, December 4, 2011
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS COACH SEAN PAYTON
â€œObviously, a big win for us. Each week is a different challenge. We felt Detroit, with the way theyâ€™ve been playing this year, presented a number of problems. They are a team that plays very well in the second half; I said that earlier in the week. You could see they rallied around the quarterback and made some plays. In that third quarter I thought the momentum shifted. It was going to be important for us to answer.â€
â€œThere are a number of things weâ€™ll be able to look at on tape that weâ€™ll be able to clean up. We are going to have to continue to work on those things. Nonetheless, to get to nine wins was significant. Iâ€™m proud of the way our guys fought. It wasnâ€™t perfect. There is a hand full of things that we have to get corrected to get where we want to go. Fortunately, we have time to do that. Now we kind of shift our gears for two away games, beginning with Tennessee this week.â€
(on the consistency developed) â€œWeâ€™ve gotten kind of on a little bit of a run here. We felt going into this third quarter of the schedule, we were going to play some good football teams. So that was a challenge starting off with Tampa, Atlanta, the Giants and of course, Detroit. All four of those teams to start this third quarter were all teams that we felt were in playoff contention. Weâ€™ve got a lot of work to do still. Our players know that, our coaches know that, and that will start with me and our staff. I like the fact that we are playing with confidence. I like the fact that we answered in the second half when that momentum shifted. Weâ€™ll be back at it this week and trying to make the improvements we feel are necessary.â€
(on defense play in first half) â€œWhen you play a team with a number of guys at the skill positions, specifically a receiver in Calvin Johnson, a guy that can take over a game, and obviously their quarterback is playing with confidence. Some of those stops on third down were pivotal for us, especially early in the game where we were able to get a lead. In the second half, when that momentum swung a little bit, we got a key score and a key stop defensively. All in all, a good win. We have a ton of respect for the team we just played. We talked it about most of the week, where they have come with their improvement. Jim (Schwartz) does a great job with his staff. It was a good, hard-fought win.
(on Detroitâ€™s 55-yard field goal attempt) â€œField positionâ€™s important so the challenge always as a coach is you recognize when you want to attempt a long field goal the downside is not only the field position but the momentum swings. They have one of the best kickers in the league. I think, in our case, we attempt the same field goal and you just hope you hit more than you miss. Capitalizing on the field position was is important for us and I think it was significant.â€
(on specific things to improve on) â€œWe gave up some big plays, some guys were uncovered. Defensively, we can be better on the back end. Honestly, we gave up too many big plays. Offensively, Iâ€™d like to see us finish the game with fourth down and a yard and a half to go. Credit Detroit, they did enough good things in the third quarter to kind of shift that momentum. On the kicking game, Iâ€™d like to see us improve our punt return units. Weâ€™ve got a real good returner (Sproles), heâ€™s come close on a few kickoff returns. I think the minute you think everythingâ€™s perfect is not a good thing. The play at the end of the first half, for instance, with 18 seconds left and all of the sudden they are kicking a field goal. Those are things that in a more significant situation will cost you football games.â€
DETROIT LIONS COACH JIM SCHWARTZ
â€œWe lost this game to a very good football team today. The New Orleans Saints are a team that has won championships, and has obviously played well this season. As much as anything, we lost to the Saints, but we beat ourselves today. Our offense continually got derailed by penalties from before the snap, after the whistle, and during the snap. It was the only thing that took us out of scoring.â€
(on the play of the defense) â€œDefensively, we had some injuries, but that is absolutely no excuse. We have paid professionals that have a lot of experience who stepped in today. In the first half, we played poorly on defense. We never gave ourselves a chance. We didnâ€™t get the job done in coverage. We didnâ€™t get the job done in rushing the passer. We made a big point last year pretending that we were in a playoff run. Guess what? Weâ€™re in one right now.â€
(on the play of Matt Stafford) â€œHe did a good job of putting us in position. He kind of hung in and took some hits to get some balls off. I thought that he made really good decisions the entire game against a really good defense like that. But it wasnâ€™t enough. It wasnâ€™t enough when there is more than the other team that he has to overcome.â€
(on not winning today and being able to gain ground on the other NFC teams that lost) â€œThe missed opportunity was not beating the Saints in a road game. If we would have won this, it really doesnâ€™t matter about those other teams. What mattered is that we beat the Saints down here, we pull ahead of the Saints. That was the only thing that mattered.â€
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS PLAYERS
QB #9 DREW BREES
(on last TD) â€œWe still didnâ€™t put it away the way we wanted to. We extended the lead with that drive. The defense did a good job.
(on Detroitâ€™s missed field goal) â€œYou weigh your options. If you make it, itâ€™s big time, a big momentum swing in their favor. If you miss it, itâ€™s great field position.
â€œI think every guy on our team knows to get where youâ€™re supposed to be. Protection was great all day long. We continued to move the ball down the field.
â€œThe loss to St. Louis left us at 5-3 and in the middle of the division with Atlanta and Tampa. Two divisional games â€“ these are twice as important. November is when you begin to separate yourselves from the pack, and we wanted to be playing our best football.
(on Curtis Johnson) â€œI think heâ€™s going to be great. Curtis Johnson has a lot of relationships here in New Orleans. Heâ€™s been around the football field here a long time. Thatâ€™s one thing heâ€™s great at â€“ he has a ton of relationships. Heâ€™s been a great part of our offensive staff here over the last six years. Heâ€™s known Sean for 20 years. Heâ€™s been a lot of places and coached a lot of big-time players. Itâ€™s great for Tulaneâ€™s program. They got a great coach in Curtis Johnson.â€
RB #28 MARK INGRAM
(On his touchdown) â€œAnytime you see the open field and score a touchdown itâ€™s an exciting feeling. (Robert) Meachem threw a great block on the outside and made it an easy run for me.â€
â€œTop to bottom, this is a great organization. Iâ€™m proud to be a Saint.
(on BCS title game) â€œRematch. Right here in the NOLA.
(prediction for BCS) â€œRoll Tide. If I said otherwise, youâ€™d look at me like I was crazy.
TE #80 JIMMY GRAHAM
(on reaching 1,000 yards) â€œIâ€™m not that concerned with 1,000 yards. For me, itâ€™s about wins. Personal accolades â€“ weâ€™ll wait till the offseason to look at those.
(on last TD drive) â€œDrew said one drive, one play at a time. We just focused on making third downs and marching down the field. Great job by Drew. Heâ€™s a surgeon out there.
WR #17 ROBERT MEACHEM
(On the touchdown pass) â€œI was just having fun at the end of the run. I caught the ball looked to the right of the field and there was nobody over there. I figured if I take a step to the right, then maybe heâ€™ll go right. He did and I just cut back left. It was intentional because I wanted to go in the inside.â€
(On his performance tonight) â€œIt was a great day for me. God gave me a gift and I just wanted to show the world my gift. When your time is called in this offense, you have to make the best of it.â€
SS #41 ROMAN HARPER
â€œAt the end of the day, I really enjoyed the way we came out and played.
(on Jon Vilma) â€œHe was flying around. The way he played tonight was very inspiring.
(on BCS title game) â€œIâ€™m definitely looking forward to the rematch. Hopefully, the Saints can continue winning some games and we can get a bye week. Iâ€™m looking forward to being back in the Dome on Jan. 9.â€
LB #51 JONATHAN VILMA
(on returning to lineup) â€œIn the beginning, I was a little rusty. By midway through the second quarter, I was good to go.
(on knee injury) â€œI had it scoped. They had to clean out some particles, some cartilage in there. Last week, I tried to give it a go and it swelled up in there.
â€œIt felt great. I was dying to get out there. It was great to see the guys hold it down for me. It was great to enjoy the moment.
(on Lions offense) â€œIt wasnâ€™t anything schematically we had to adjust to. We had to weather the storm. Detroitâ€™s so explosive offensively. We faced Matthew Stafford when he was a rookie, and heâ€™s improved tremendously. You can put him in that upper echelon now.
â€œTheyâ€™re going to put up points. Everything they scored, we wanted to make them earn it.
DETROIT LIONS PLAYERS
QB #9 MATTHEW STAFFORD
â€œWe moved the ball really well tonight. We really did some dumb things that really set us back. We had a tough day with the penalties all day. Iâ€™ve never been in a game before when one player had three offensive pass interference calls. Itâ€™s something we have to get better at. We have to lock it down and understand we canâ€™t beat ourselves like that.
â€œWe played well. We were moving the ball well in the second half. We were in a position to win the game, but we canâ€™t continue to shoot ourselves in the foot.
â€œWe had all the opportunities to make it happen, and itâ€™s upon us to do it. We had a great opportunity to do what we wanted to do. Obviously, we did not do it tonight. Smart football teams are still playing in January. Teams that make smart decisions donâ€™t beat themselves.â€
WR #81 CALVIN JOHNSON
â€œA lot of these games that we have been losing recently, we have been moving the ball. We get multiple penalties that end drives, and itâ€™s very difficult to overcome that.
â€œWe experienced multiple penalties tonight. No matter where you are on the field, itâ€™s going to stall the drive.
(on Saints defense) â€œThey had a plan. I saw a lot of â€˜rollâ€™ and â€˜invert two,â€™ but we also experienced a lot of penalties and that killed us, and itâ€™s very hard to overcome that.
WR #13 NATE BURLESON
(on offensive pass interference penalties) â€œOn the first penalty, I know I pushed off, but the other two, Iâ€™m going to have to see those on film. I did not put my hand on the DB at all on the other two.
â€œI will take full responsibility for the first one. Maybe you guys saw something that I did not.â€
DT #98 NICK FAIRLEY
â€œFor the most part, I thought we put a lot of pressure on Brees, but they are a tough offense to handle. I also thought we did a great job of stopping the run, but in the end, we gave up too many big plays and that was the difference in the game.â€
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