This one was all about big plays and the New Orleans Saints made them.
In their convincing 38-17 victory at Oakland, the Saints got a 38-yard touchdown pass, an interception in the end zone to kill a Raiders drive, a pick-six and a 75-yard kickoff return.
Once again, the defense got a huge stop in the red zone, near the goal line. Oakland had a first-and-goal from the New Orleans two-yard line early in the second quarter and did not score a point.
When Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper come up with interceptions, you are going to win. The duo went all of the 2011 season without an interception. Clearly, Drew Brees does not need many opportunities.
As a result, the Saints have fought all the way back from an 0-4 start to the .500 mark for the first time at 5-5, an impressive accomplishment. Can they continue the run?
Here are my first takes from the Saints victory over the Raiders:
**I was a bit surprised that replay overturned the 29-yard completion from Drew Brees to Travaris Cadet on the first offensive series for the Saints. Television replay did not appear to have anything conclusive in providing evidence to change the call but the zebras did, anyway.
**Of course, the Saints went on to score, anyway, as Brees extended his NFL record to 53 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass when he connected with Jimmy Graham on a one-yard scoring toss. Graham was all alone, a total bust in coverage by the Raiders' linebackers.
**How should the Saints use Roman Harper? On second-and-4 from their own 26 yard line, Oakland ran big Marcel Reece right. Harper was run blitzing and tackled him for a three-yard loss. That is vintage Harper, strong in run support and rushing the passer, not in coverage. Harper later tackled Reece for a one-yard gain at the New Orleans 11-yard line early in the second quarter. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Harper was instrumental in stopping Reece on fourth-and-one from the New Orleans 40-yard line. He is good in the box.
**Mark Ingram on the punt return team as outside man? It is not like he is that fast. Injury possibilities exist as well. With so many running backs active, I guess someone has to play there. He jumps offside. Fortunately, it still left Oakland with a fourth-and-one in the first quarter. Ingram ran well again, finishing with 12 carries for 67 yards and a touchdown.
**Carson Palmer was begging to be picked off. First, he was nearly picked off by Patrick Robinson on an underthrown deep ball. Then, he was nearly picked off by Harper on a ball that short-hopped him. Then, he found Malcolm Jenkins on a pass intended for tight end Brandon Myers and Jenkins made a play (finally!) and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown, the second of his career.
**Steve Spagnuolo has made the adjustment. He had his defense blitzing all afternoon long.
**On fourth-down and a foot from the three-yard line, Oakland ran to the line of scrimmage and quick snapped it with Palmer sneaking for the first-down to the two-yard line. The Saints defense was not really ready, it appeared. Good move by Oakland. Of course, it was short-lived.
**Brandon Myers had an easy touchdown, beating Jonathan Vilma for an apparent touchdown. He dropped the ball, letting it bounce right off his hands and into the hands of Harper for an interception and touchback. Look what I found! Jenkins and Harper then celebrated like they had won the Super Bowl, costing the Saints 10 yards and forcing Brees to start the next possession from the 10-yard line. Very happy for Harper but you have to act like you have been there before. The interception ended a 17-play drive.
**Oakland came right back, going 81 yards in just four plays. This time, Myers held on for a touchdown pass from Palmer and the Raiders were back in the game at 14-7.
**New Orleans finished with 11 penalties for 107 yards, the only negative.
**I have always admired his professionalism and style but Dick Stockton is way, way past his time as a network play-by-play announcer. He has virtually idea what is going on, based on his comments. He misidentifies players, down and distance and makes comments that simply do not make sense. This is not an opinion based on one game. Remember the Saints win at Tampa Bay? He had no clue about a receiver being ineligible after stepping out of the field of play before coming back in-bounds to catch a touchdown pass.
**His color analyst, John Lynch, is the guy who injured Brees on a sack in the end zone in San Diego in 2005, which set in motion the Chargers letting Brees go in favor of Philip Rivers, with Brees ending up in New Orleans. Thank you, John Lynch!
**Pierre Thomas made a tremendous recovery of a Graham fumble at the Oakland 28 to keep the Saints touchdown drive alive prior to the end of the first half.
**The Saints then took advantage. Brees stepped up to avoid pressure, Lance Moore made a double move on Michael Huff and beat him for a 38-yard touchdown to make it 21-7. Great play by Brees, who got plastered after he threw the ball. Great move by Moore.
**Charles Brown went out of the game in the second quarter, carted off. Zach Strief was already inactive so the Saints were down to their third tackle in rookie Bryce Harris. The Saints frequently kept a tight end in to help Harris in pass protection.
**The Saints had 205 yards in the first half while Oakland had 204.
**Reece had 12 carries for 60 yards and four catches for 90 yards--in the first half alone. Reece is Oakland's third-string running back. He finished with 19 carries for 103 yards.
**On Travaris Cadet's 75-yard kickoff return to start the second half, Akeim Hicks had the key block on Phillip Adams, who wanted a holding call. Nice return by Cadet, who was not touched until he was tackled. He did not have the finishing speed to take it the distance.
**Mark Ingram runs 27 yards for a score and points, taunting, a childish, immature move that can incite both the opponent and fans. Ingram was untouched on the play. Again, act like you have been there. There is no place for it. Great block by Jed Collins on the play.
**Jabari Greer stripped Rod Streater on a pass completion inside the New Orleans 10-yard line, Harper recovered and returned it 57 yards but hold everything.....Streater never had total control of the ball and the Saints lost another review. It was very, very close. Once again, the Saints lost a call that was overturned. New Orleans held and forced a 40-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski that banked in off of the left upright.
**Brees took three monster shots in the game but bounced right back up.
**Elbert Mack played well. He nearly made a tremendous interception in the fourth quarter, jumping a quick out route on a pass intended from Palmer to Streater. It was the third review that was overruled, going against the Saints in the game.
**Johnny Patrick, who opened the season as a projected starter, replaced Mack. Patrick was targeted quickly and he was caught holding Streater, resulting in a first down. On the next play, Streater beat Mack on a 20-yard completion to the New Orleans three-yard line. Two plays later, Palmer hit Juron Criner for the first touchdown catch of his career. It was a well thrown ball. Once again, it was Patrick defending. Perhaps now we know why he faded from view.
**Despite the solid defensive performance, the Saints kept their ignominious, record of consecutive games allowing 400 or more yards alive at all 10 games. Oakland totaled 404 yards in the game. It is not about yards. It is about points. I will take 17 every time out and the Saints may never lose with that number to beat.
**It was a good move to get Chase Daniel in the game late, to get him game time and to protect Brees, who was brilliant again. Brees connected on 20-of-27 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
**Brees now has 20 or more pass completions in 45 straight games, another NFL record.
**The Saints continue to run the ball very well, rushing for 152 yards.
**How bad are the Raiders? They have now given up 135 points in their last three games.
The Saints step back up in class at home against the 49ers at home. Can you say revenge?
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