Once again, Saints deliver in the Dome
December, 9, 2013
By Mike Triplett | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Bill HaberDrew Brees passed for 313 yards and four touchdowns against the Panthers.
NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints' preferred cure for a hangover? Playing at night inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Saints (10-3) followed up their worst loss of the season at Seattle with arguably their most impressive win six nights later -- a 31-13 rout over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night.
In the big picture, this performance didn't silence all of the Saints' doubters.
They didn't answer all of the questions about whether or not they can be the same team on the road that they are at home -- the questions that will certainly come up again if they wind up back in Seattle for the NFC title game.
But all the Saints could control this week was how they responded in this one game. And the answer was loud and clear.
“To go out and play the way we did today, we got our confidence back and kind of got our swagger back. And that's Saints football, what you saw out there today,” Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “I don't know what that was last week.”
The Saints are now 7-0 at home this season. They've now won 13 consecutive prime-time games in this building, including the playoffs, by nearly 20 points per game. And every time quarterback Drew Brees walks into this place, he's like Clark Kent walking out of a phone booth.
Brees threw for another 313 yards and four touchdowns Sunday. He has thrown for 43 touchdowns and just four interceptions during that 13-game win streak. And he became the fifth NFL quarterback to throw for 50,000 yards in his career.
“We wanted to bounce back in a big way with a big win,” Brees said. “We were able to do that today.”
Even in the comfort of their home building, this was a pretty remarkable effort by the Saints.
As if it wasn't hard enough to rally on a short week, the Saints had to spend an extra night in Seattle because of a cracked windshield on the team plane, of all things. And players were more willing to admit after Sunday night's victory just how ticked off they were by that delay -- especially on the heels of such a humbling 34-7 loss to the Seahawks on “Monday Night Football.”
“We were all pissed. We were mad. We were angry and deservedly so,” Saints safety Roman Harper said. “We got our butts kicked on national TV in front of everybody.”
The Saints didn't get home until nearly 4 p.m. Tuesday, pushing back their first practice of the week until Thursday.
And, oh by the way, they had to get ready to host a Panthers team that was tied with them for the NFC South lead -- a team that led the NFL in scoring defense and came in riding an eight-game winning streak.
“I would say this was one of the most challenging games that we've had to get ready for,” Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said. “But this is a team that's ready for any challenge, and we met that challenge tonight.”
Players credited coach Sean Payton for choosing the right practice schedule -- preferring to maximize their recovery time after the Seattle game.
Payton also took every measure to make sure the Saints' players -- and the fans -- were emotionally “up” for Sunday night's game. His message was clear all week that he considered this a “big game,” rather than just the “next game on the schedule.”
The Saints invited an official from Guinness World Records to chart the crowd noise (though they fell short of the record) and handed out rally towels to every fan in the building.
Payton even announced on Twitter that he left tickets for the hip-hop group the Ying-Yang Twins, who did indeed show up as their 2009 Saints anthem “Halftime (Stand Up and Get Crunk)” played repeatedly throughout the night.
“The concern I had coming into the game was just having the energy you need to play in a divisional game like this with a short week,” Payton said. “I thought the players handled that part of it well, and I thought they had enough energy. And I thought we played with a lot of emotion.”
It was a little touch-and-go for a few minutes. Carolina actually took a 6-0 lead into the second quarter, thanks to two long field goal drives and a three-and-out by the Saints' offense.
But that confidence and emotion never wavered. Two of the biggest series of the game came when the Saints' defense ultimately forced Carolina's offense to settle for field goals on those first two drives (one of which started on New Orleans' 32-yard line because of a long punt return and a penalty).
Outside linebacker Junior Galette (three sacks) and defensive end Cameron Jordan (two sacks) were the most dynamic playmakers, but they weren't alone.
“We took some of their best punches early, but I thought we bounced back,” Jordan said. “We've always been a resilient defense, and we played great in the second half.”
And the biggest offensive play of the night might have been receiver Marques Colston's sensational 21-yard catch on third-and-9 to start the Saints' second offensive series. The floodgates opened after that, with the Saints scoring touchdowns on three straight possessions for a 21-6 halftime lead.
Colston finished with nine catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Jimmy Graham caught Brees' other two TD throws.
“I think the history shows that this team responds after losses. ... When we get beat like that, you know this team's gonna respond,” Graham said. “And one of the biggest attributes tonight was the fans. The dome was amazing. Everyone was just so into it, all four quarters, with the white towels. And the ‘Get Crunk' song was playing. It was truly amazing tonight, and it's awesome to see that on a Sunday night with a division rival. And our city's amazing, our fans are amazing. And when they come out like that, we just respond every time.”
So, back to the narrative that will either glorify the Saints or haunt them over the next month or two -- depending on the location.
“People are still going to say the same things: ‘Well, they're good at home. This and that about the road, or weather, whatever, whatever,'” Harper said. “So, we understand that. We've got to continue to come and answer the bell every time. We know we're going to have a tough road ahead of us. We [are at St. Louis next Sunday], and we have to go and get this one too, or this win means absolutely nothing.”
The Saints can clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC by winning two of their final three games (at St. Louis, at Carolina, vs. Tampa Bay). Even if they lose at Carolina, they would win a tie-breaker if both teams finish 12-4.
The No. 2 seed means a first-round bye and a second-round game at home. And obviously, that would mean a lot.