NFL Nation: Lambeau Field

Garcon: FedEx louder than Lambeau

September, 12, 2013
ASHBURN, Va. -- They know the history. They’re just not choosing to get lost in it; nor are they about to let a venue – in this case Lambeau Field -- be a difference in the outcome Sunday.

Green Bay definitely has a home-field advantage, though that stems as much from the players they have as the place they play. The Packers have won 20 of their last 21 home games, including seven straight, and 26 of their last 28. The addition of 7,000 seats, making the stadium fully enclosed, adds to the atmosphere.

“It’s another stadium,” said Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon, whose only appearance at Lambeau came in 2008. “FedEx Field is louder. But the crowd noise won’t be an issue for us. They’ll be excited and pumped because it’s their home opener. Lambeau has history, but they don’t have the weather advantage. It’s going to be an even playing field, to tell you the truth.”

Garcon said players “light up” when a trip to Green Bay is on the schedule. Not because of Lambeau as much as because of the elements.

“You check to see if it’s early or late [in the year],” he said. “Green Bay always has a good team.”

The Redskins last played the Packers in 2010, beating them 16-13 in overtime. They last met at Green Bay in 2007, losing 17-14. Late safety Sean Taylor intercepted two passes in that game and seemingly could have had two or three more.

Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo understands the history of Lambeau but isn’t thinking about it that much.

“We just think it’s another away game,” he said. “You have to stay focused and not get overly concerned where we’re playing and just go out ready to rock and roll.”

Veteran London Fletcher might be making his final appearance at Lambeau. It will be the third time he’s played there.

“It’s one of the great atmospheres in all of football,” he said. “For the guys who experience it for the first time they’ll be very impressed. It’s really like a college atmosphere. I can feel the tradition when you come into the place. The whole city shuts down and everybody is at the Packers game. It’s an awesome atmosphere.”
[+] EnlargeLambeau Field
Courtesy of Tyler Gajewski, packers.comA recent photo of the addition to Lambeau Field.
Thursday brought the official ribbon-cutting ceremony to the most recent phase of the Green Bay Packers' Lambeau Field construction, one that brought another 7,000 or so seats to the south end zone underneath a massive new scoreboard and HD video screen. As we noted earlier this week, the stadium now has the third-highest capacity in the NFL (80,750).

My understanding, based on conversations with sources, is that a picture is worth 1,000 words. So as a public service, I wanted to give you a chance to see the new section for yourself, courtesy of

You'll notice the section has actual seatbacks, as opposed to the traditional bleachers throughout most of the stadium bowl. My understanding is that quite a few season ticket holders opted to move into the new section, for that and other reasons.

All told, the project cost $146 million. The next phase of construction will include an enlarged Pro Shop and Packers Hall of Fame.

This slideshow on provides additional glimpses of the new sections.

Wrap-up: Packers 28, Saints 27

September, 30, 2012
Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints28-27 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field:

What it means: The Saints played their best game of the season, but still fell to 0-4. I won’t categorically say the season is over, but it’s close to that. It’s going to take an awfully big miracle for the Saints to bounce back and make the playoffs.

The win that wasn’t: The Saints actually had this game won -- momentarily. With just under three minutes left, Garrett Hartley converted a 43-yard field goal that would have given the Saints a 30-28 lead. But the field goal was erased by a holding call. That set up a 53-yard attempt that would have tied for the longest of Hartley’s career. He never got to attempt that kick because the Packers jumped offside. That moved the field goal attempt to 48 yards. Hartley’s kick was wide left. The Packers got the ball back and ran out the clock.

Can’t blame Brees: There’s a school of thought out there that quarterback Drew Brees hasn’t stepped up enough in a season in which the Saints are without suspended coach Sean Payton. I’m not sure how much more Brees possibly could have done against the Packers. He completed 35-of-54 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns without being intercepted.

Tying the record: Brees threw a touchdown pass in his 47th consecutive game. That ties him with Johnny Unitas for the longest such streak in NFL history. Brees will get a chance to break that against the team that drafted him and later dumped him.

Colston shows up: Wide receiver Marques Colston had been very quiet in the first three games. He wasn’t quiet against the Packers. Colston had nine catches for 153 yards and a touchdown.

What’s next: The Saints will host San Diego at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome next Sunday night.

Final Word: NFC South

September, 28, 2012
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 4:

Throwbacks bring good luck: Team marketing departments love throwback uniforms because they create more merchandise to sell. Some coaches also love the throwback uniforms because they believe they bring good luck, and coaches are a superstitious group. Count Atlanta’s Mike Smith among them. The Falcons will wear their throwback uniforms Sunday against Carolina. The Falcons started wearing throwback uniforms (red helmets, black jerseys and white pants) in 2009 and are 5-1 in those outfits. They’re scheduled to wear them again in a game Nov. 29 against New Orleans at the Georgia Dome.

[+] EnlargeAtlanta Falcons
AP Photo/Gregory BullWith a win over Carolina on Sunday, Atlanta would tie their franchise record for the best start to a season.
Looking at history: The Falcons can tie the franchise record for best start in team history with a win against Carolina. The 1986 and 2004 teams each started 4-0, but each lost its fifth game. If the Falcons win against the Panthers, they’ll have a chance to set a team record when they play at Washington in Week 5.

Chasing the record: There’s a bright spot as the 0-3 New Orleans Saints travel to Lambeau Field to play the Green Bay Packers. If Drew Brees throws a touchdown pass, he’ll tie the NFL record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass. The record is 47 by Johnny Unitas from 1956 through 1960. If Brees ties the record Sunday, he’ll have a chance to break it the following week at home against San Diego. You might recall that the Chargers are the team that unceremoniously let Brees go after the 2005 season, and he still carries a chip on his shoulder about that.

Contact coming slowly: We all know that the defense has been a big problem for the Saints. One of the biggest problems is that the Saints haven’t been able to stop runners in the backfield. The Saints have allowed a league-high 477 yards before making first contact with the ball carrier, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Opposing runners are averaging 3.7 yards before a New Orleans defender even touches them.

Run defense much improved: Despite their 1-2 start, the Buccaneers have made some significant improvements. One of them has been the run defense. Tampa Bay is allowing a league-best 2.3 yards per rushing attempt, and that comes after a season in which the Bucs allowed a league worst 156.1 rushing yards per game. The Bucs also are leading the NFL by allowing just 0.95 yards before first contact. Last year, the Bucs allowed 3.04 yards before contact, which ranked No. 31.

NFL Power Rankings: Falcons No. 2

September, 25, 2012
The latest edition of the Power Rankings is out and the Atlanta Falcons have moved up to No. 2.

The Falcons are behind only the Houston Texans, who were the almost unanimous choice at No. 1. Only AFC North colleague Jamison Hensley, a very smart man, put the Falcons at No. 1. Atlanta was No. 3 last week, but No. 1 San Francisco lost, clearing the way for the Falcons and Texans to move up.

Baltimore and San Francisco, each with one loss, are third and fourth. Like Houston and Atlanta, Arizona also is undefeated, but it looks as if voters aren’t certain on the Cardinals yet and have them ranked No. 5.

There’s a long drop from the Falcons to the rest of the NFC South teams. Next in line are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 20. I guess close counts for something because the 1-2 Bucs actually climbed a spot after Sunday’s loss to Dallas.

The Carolina Panthers are No. 23. They were No. 19 last week, but tumbled after an embarrassing loss to the New York Giants on Thursday night. I would have dropped them even a couple more spots after that fiasco.

Finally, the winless New Orleans Saints are No. 28, down four spots from last week. This is my fifth season covering the NFC South and I can’t remember the Saints ever having such a low ranking. Sad part is, it might be even lower next week, after Sunday’s trip to Lambeau Field, where I’m sure the Packers will be looking to work out some frustration after Monday night’s controversial loss to Seattle.

Wrap-up: Chiefs 27, Saints 24 (OT)

September, 23, 2012

Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 27-24 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday:

What it means: Last week, I said it was time for the Saints to panic. My point was that they needed to do something dramatic before this season got out of control. They might be at that point now. They controlled things for most of the day in a game in their own stadium and they still ended up losing. The Saints are 0-3 and in sole possession of last place in the NFC South. The Saints have dug themselves a big hole and it’s not going to be easy to climb out of. The last time the Saints started 0-3 was 2007, when they lost their first four games and failed to make the playoffs. It probably remains a little too early to say the Saints' season is over, but look at the next opponent on the schedule (at the bottom of this item) and it's tough to imagine New Orleans suddenly turning things around.

Defensive woes continue: Kansas City wasn’t supposed to be an offensive powerhouse and, early on, it looked like a New Orleans defense that struggled in its first two games was going to be all right. But the defense collapsed, particularly the run defense. Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles carried 33 times for 233 yards, including a 91-yard touchdown run. Matt Cassel threw for 248 yards. The Saints could have survived that if their run defense had just kept Charles in check. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's been taking a lot of heat from fans. What happened Sunday isn't going to stop that.

What happened to the offensive line? I’m not going to put the blame on the collapse of the offensive line solely on the loss of guard Carl Nicks to Tampa Bay in free agency. I certainly think the loss of Nicks was a factor. But I think some other members of the offensive line are underachieving. The Chiefs aren’t a team known for generating much of a pass rush. They came up with a strong pass rush against Drew Brees and even scored a safety late in regulation by sacking Brees in the end zone. Brees has had to face too much pressure so far this season. He banged up his ankle last week and there were times on Sunday when Brees seemed to be limping a bit after taking big hits from the Chiefs. If Brees suffers any sort of injury, whatever is left of the Saints’ season is over.

What’s next: The Saints travel to Lambeau Field to play the Green Bay Packers next Sunday.

Saints put too much on Drew Brees

January, 14, 2012
Drew BreesThearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesDrew Brees attempted 63 passes Saturday, 14 more than in any regular-season game this season.
Drew Brees is capable of many great things. But you can’t go to the miracle well 63 times in a game and expect it to produce every time.

That was proved Saturday as Brees and the New Orleans Saints lost 36-32 in a divisional playoff game to the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park.

History will tell us this was one of the best games in playoff annals, coming as it did with four lead changes in the final 5 minutes and San Francisco’s winning touchdown with 9 seconds remaining. History will be right, because this game was exciting all the way around.

But the surrounding hysteria might get in the way of history, so let’s go ahead and go on the record with one very important item that cannot be overlooked: You can’t go deep into the postseason with Brees and Brees alone.

That’s what the Saints tried to do, and it came painfully close to working. They had Brees attempt 63 passes. He completed 40 of them, and it looked like he had the miracle the Saints needed when he hit tight end Jimmy Graham with a 66-yard touchdown pass with 1:37 left.

But football -- particularly when it’s in the postseason and on the road -- is about much more than a quarterback, even if he’s surrounded with Graham, Darren Sproles and Marques Colston.

You must have defense, special teams and a running game. The Saints had none of those things against the 49ers, and that’s why they lost.

They simply asked too much from Brees, and they should have known better.

Just go back and look at New Orleans’ three losses during the regular season. There’s a little lesson here.

In the opener at Lambeau Field, Brees attempted 49 passes -- a number that would end up as his regular-season high. He lost a shootout to Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay, and there’s no shame in that. But look closely at the Saints' other two losses, because they came against inferior opponents. In an Oct. 16 defeat to Tampa Bay, the last game the Buccaneers won, Brees attempted 45 passes.

Oh, and then there’s that inexplicable loss to St. Louis two weeks later. Brees attempted 44 passes in that game. Win either the St. Louis or Tampa Bay game, and the Saints are the No. 2 seed and playing at home, where they were undefeated in the regular season.

There’s a line of demarcation where too much Brees becomes a bad thing. It’s somewhere in the low 40s. Yeah, Brees threw 44 times in victories against Houston and Jacksonville, 45 times in a three-point win over Carolina and 47 in a December victory against Tennessee. But none of those was pretty, and Houston was the only playoff team among that bunch.

In games in which Brees attempted 43 or fewer passes, the Saints were 8-0. They also were at their best in those games. They had a running game, some defense and no huge mistakes by the special teams.

But the Saints apparently didn’t notice that trend. They put too much on Brees on Saturday, and they did have some valid reasons for that. Brees didn’t help matters with two interceptions, and the Saints turned the ball over three times in the first quarter.

They fell behind 17-0. Then, they let Brees bring them back but didn’t do anything to help him. The running game, which had been so much better than last season’s, was nonexistent. Sproles, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas combined for only 13 rushing attempts and 32 yards.

Thomas left the game with an apparent concussion after losing a fumble near the goal line in the first quarter. Without him, the New Orleans offense became predictable. When Ivory was in the game, it was obvious the Saints were running. When Sproles was in there, it was obvious they were throwing.

And they threw way too often against a defense that can generate pressure. On his 63 drop-backs, Brees was sacked three times. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Brees was under duress an additional 17 times. When under duress, Brees completed five of 16 attempts (31.3 percent). Brees also threw away five passes after throwing away only eight during the regular season and in the first round of the playoffs.

Again, there should have been a lesson from the regular season. The most times Brees was sacked or under duress (17) was in the St. Louis loss. Against Green Bay, Brees was sacked or under duress on 12 of his drop-backs.

The more often you have Brees drop back, the more you’re asking for trouble, especially when you have two All-Pros at guard but very ordinary tackles.

However, the biggest letdown of all came from the defense. It happened twice after Brees brought the Saints all the way back to take the lead.

The New Orleans defense was pretty good in the 2009 championship season, but it’s fallen off dramatically since then. After doing a decent job against the 49ers most of the game, it totally collapsed in the final four minutes.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
Cary Edmondson/US PresswireWith no running game to help out, Drew Brees faced heavy pressure from the 49ers defense.
The Saints allowed Alex Smith to score on a 28-yard run, the longest of his career. No one should ever confuse the slow-footed Smith with Steve Young. But now, in addition to Young, he’s going to get compared to Joe Montana.

After the late touchdown to Graham, Smith took the 49ers on a drive for the ages. He hit tight end Vernon Davis with a 14-yard touchdown pass to win the game with 9 seconds left. Matched up against strong safety Roman Harper most of the game, Davis finished with seven catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns.

The Saints should have known going into the game that Harper on Davis was a huge mismatch, but they kept letting it happen and they kept making Smith look great when it mattered most.

This game showed what’s been suspected since after the Saints won their Super Bowl. Their defense isn’t that good anymore.

That’s obvious now, and there are bound to be ripples, maybe even big waves, after this loss. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ contract just expired, and there already has been speculation he could be joining his old buddy Jeff Fisher in St. Louis. Coach Sean Payton, who once gave up part of his own salary to get Williams, might not stand in the way of a move after this one.

It’s going to be a busy offseason for the Saints. They must sign Brees to a new contract because his deal is up. The Saints have other expensive potential free agents such as Colston and guard Carl Nicks.

There’s no doubt the Saints will keep Brees and, in the process, probably make him the league’s highest-paid quarterback. But as they look at their salary-cap situation after taking care of Brees, they should take a long, hard look at their roster.

It’s time for some changes. You can do all sorts of flashy things and break lots of records by letting Brees carry your team. But he can win a championship only when he has some help around him.

It’s time to give Brees that help.

Rapid Reaction: Saints 45, Falcons 16

December, 26, 2011

NEW ORLEANS -- Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints’ 45-16 victory against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

What it means: The Saints (12-3) clinched the NFC South, which means they’ll be one of the top four seeds in the playoffs. They still have a shot at going as high as the No. 2 seed, but they’ll need to win their finale and hope San Francisco loses. The Falcons (9-6) already are in the playoffs, but now they can’t do any better than the No. 5 seed. Also, New Orleans’ victory means that, once again, no team has won the NFC South in consecutive years since the division came into existence in 2002.

Record time: With two minutes and 51 seconds left in the game, Drew Brees made history. With a touchdown pass to Darren Sproles, Brees broke Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a season. Marino had 5,084 yards in 1984. Brees came into the game needing 305 yards to break the record. He finished with 307 yards. Brees also threw four touchdown passes.

The Sproles factor: I might be overlooking someone, but I don’t think I’m too far off in saying Sproles was the best free-agent signing in the NFL this year. Sproles has made huge contributions as a runner, receiver and a return man. Early this season, I still saw some fans wearing Reggie Bush jerseys. I don’t think I’ve seen one in a couple of months.

The great debate: After watching the Saints absolutely dominate what had been a good Atlanta team for the past month or so, I think it’s fair to start talking about how the Saints match up with the Green Bay Packers. Remember, the Saints took the Packers down to the wire in the season opener at Lambeau Field. I know for certain the Saints are a better team now than they were in September. Yeah, you can bring San Francisco into the argument too, but that kind of waters things down. The Saints and Packers play great offense and a postseason game between them would be as exciting a game as you could ask for.

What I didn't like: From an Atlanta perspective, the way the Falcons lost this game had to be demoralizing. The Falcons had seemed to be on a roll in recent weeks. They’re already in the playoffs and they should have an easy finale. But the momentum Atlanta had built over the past month or so has been shattered. If they somehow end up facing the Saints again in the playoffs, that’s not a good psychological matchup. The Saints have defeated the Falcons twice already and that’s got to be in the heads of the Atlanta players.

What's next: The Saints host the Carolina Panthers in the regular-season finale on Sunday. The Falcons host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Sprow: Saints can take Packers

December, 26, 2011
NEW ORLEANS -- The Saints are focused solely on their “Monday Night Football’’ game with the Atlanta Falcons right now. A victory will give them the NFC South title.

But fans and media have been getting ahead of the game and comparing the Saints to the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans’ quarterback Drew Brees to Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. There’s also been a fair amount of debate about which of those quarterbacks should win the Most Valuable Player award.

Well, the looking down the road continues. In this Insider post, Chris Sprow goes into great detail about how well Brees has played in the past six games. He says that if Brees continues playing the way he has been, the Saints can beat the Packers, even if it’s in the NFC Championship Game in Lambeau Field.

He then points to several other reasons why the Saints might be better than the Packers, including the New Orleans defense and the continued emergence of Jimmy Graham.

Defense starting to make Saints scary

December, 5, 2011
Calvin JohnsonAP Photo/Bill FeigThe Saints' defense limited Detroit's leading receiver, Calvin Johnson, to just six catches for 69 yards.
NEW ORLEANS -- We’ve known for quite some time that the New Orleans Saints’ offense could probably score enough to stay with an NBA team if it needed to. Defense, though, hasn’t exactly been a strong point during the Sean Payton era.

Heck, you get the idea the coach only uses a defense because it’s required. You can’t fault him, because running an offense the way a smart kid would play a video game has brought New Orleans far more wins than losses through the years.

But it was the defense that was largely responsible for Sunday night’s 31-17 victory against the Detroit Lions at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Sure, Drew Brees (342 passing yards and three touchdowns) worked his usual magic and the offense put up the usual big numbers (tight end Jimmy Graham became the first tight end in franchise history to have 1,000 receiving yards in a season). But the defense, which has been known to give up some yardage and points, played perhaps its best game of the season.

Yeah, the Saints only allowed seven points in a win against the Colts and 10 in a victory against the Jaguars. But those were the Colts and the Jaguars. The Lions have a real offense (see Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson).

“(Johnson) can take over a game,’’ Payton said. “And the quarterback (Stafford) is playing with confidence.’’

Sure, Stafford put up 408 passing yards and it’s not often you can say a defense played a good game when it gives up 400 passing yards. However, the New Orleans defense did play well. Stafford only threw for one touchdown and Johnson was limited to six catches for 69 yards. Holding Detroit to 17 points is more than respectable.

“That was a big part of the game plan,’’ cornerback Tracy Porter said. “We created population around him and were able to minimize the damage he can do.’’

The New Orleans defense was particularly good early on. Johnson had just two catches for 19 yards in the first half, and the Lions didn’t score until there were 2 minutes, 28 seconds left in the first half. New Orleans went into halftime with a 24-7 lead. The Lions got back into the game with 10 unanswered points in the third quarter, but never scored again.

“Some of those stops on third down early in the game were pivotal and we were able to get a lead,’’ Payton said. “In that second half when that momentum swung a little bit, we got a key score and then a key stop defensively. All in all, it was a good hard-fought win. We have a ton of respect for that team we just played.’’

They should, because the Lions have a good offense and the Saints are going to see more good offenses down the line, especially if they get into the playoffs, which seems pretty much automatic at this point.

The Saints improved to 9-3 and clinched their third straight winning season. And they're going to need more games like this from their defense.

Let’s be brutally honest, the Saints are never going to have a great defense that can shut teams down all the time. That’s not the way coordinator Gregg Williams plays. His emphasis is more on being opportunistic, creating turnovers and making some big stops when needed. That’s what the Saints did against the Lions. That’s also what the Saints did in the 2009 season when they won the Super Bowl. They regressed defensively in 2010 and that’s part of the reason why they were bounced in their first playoff game.

Up until the Detroit game, the current defense has played more like the 2010 unit than the 2009 group. But this game might end up being a turning point. It was no coincidence that middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma returned after missing four games with a knee injury. Vilma led the Saints with 10 tackles.

“He’s the guy that runs the show,’’ free safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “Our other guys did a really good job filling in for him, but it’s a lot easier when he’s in their making the calls.’’

The Saints were able to pressure Stafford. He was sacked three times and hurried five others. The Saints did a good job containing the running game as well: the Lions finished with 87 net yards on the ground.

“Three and out is just as good as a turnover,’’ said Porter, who created New Orleans’ only turnover of the night with a fourth-quarter interception.

As Porter and Jenkins chatted in front of their lockers before meeting with the media, they talked about how the Saints should have had more interceptions. They started with two passes that went off Jenkins’ hands. Then, they started doing some more math.

By the time they were done, the conclusion was the Saints should have had five more interceptions.

“It wasn’t perfect,’’ Payton said. “There’s a handful of things we’ve got to get corrected to get to where we want to go to. But we’ve got time to do that.’’

Where the Saints want to go is the Super Bowl. Even with all their offense, the Saints are going to need some help from their defense down the road. Getting some stops and keeping Johnson under 100 yards and out of the end zone was very good.

Keep doing that and add some turnovers and the Saints could be really scary in the playoffs. Speaking of the playoffs, it’s looking at the moment like the unbeaten Green Bay Packers are the team to beat in the NFC.

But don’t hand the Packers the NFC title just yet. The Saints could have something to say about it before all is said and done. They went up to Lambeau Field for the season opener and took the Packers down to the last play of the game before losing.

Like the Saints, the Packers score points in bunches. But Green Bay’s defense hasn’t been dominant. The Saints have improved on defense since the opener.

If they can keep doing the good things they have recently and improve on those handful of things Payton talked about, the Saints might be able to slow the Packers enough to win -- if they end up meeting down the road.

Rapid Reaction: Saints 49, Giants 24

November, 29, 2011

NEW ORLEANS -- Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints’ 49-24 win against the New York Giants on Monday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

What it means: The Saints are 8-3 and still alone at the top of the NFC South. They also have the city of New Orleans rocking as the season comes down to crunch time. When teams have to come into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for prime-time games late in the season, the Saints have a huge home-field edge. They’ve got the Lions coming in for a prime-time game Sunday, and the Falcons come to New Orleans the night after Christmas. If the Saints win the NFC South and get the No. 3 seed, they’re pretty much guaranteed a trip to the NFC Championship Game, which could be a return trip to Lambeau Field, where the Saints started the season with a close loss to the Packers. But, hey, I'm thinking anything is possible for the Saints right now. This season is starting to remind me a lot more of 2009 than 2010.

The streak is over: The Saints had lost the coin toss in each of their first 10 games. That ended Monday night as they won the toss and elected to receive.

What I liked: Everything on offense. The Saints have so many weapons, and coach Sean Payton and Drew Brees use them all so well, it’s almost unfair for a defense to have to put only 11 players on the field. It might have been a little hard to notice because of Brees' ridiculous passing numbers, but the Saints also ran the ball pretty well.

The confidence factor: I wasn't crazy about it at the time when Payton went with a fake field goal on the first drive. It didn't work. But he basically was saying, "I don't care if we score here or not. This offense is going to put up so many points that it won't matter if we get seven, three or zero points here." He was right.

What I didn’t like: New Orleans’ defense gave up way too many yards. Then again, it didn’t really matter because there was no way a depleted New York defense was going to stop Brees and the New Orleans offense. But New Orleans still needs some improvement on defense, or that might come back to bite the Saints in the postseason.

Unsung hero: Linebacker Will Herring was hurt much of the early part of the season, and we haven’t seen much of him since he’s been healthy. But Herring showed up big, intercepting Eli Manning in the first quarter.

What’s next: The Saints host the Detroit Lions on Sunday night.

Final Word: NFC South

November, 18, 2011
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11 (remember, the New Orleans Saints have a bye):

Crunch time: It would be a very long shot for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to go into Lambeau Field and defeat the Packers. But I’m going to be keeping a close eye on this one for reasons other than the final score. I want to see if the Bucs show effort in this one. In last week’s loss to Houston, a lack of effort was a serious problem. There’s been a lot of emphasis around One Buccaneer Place this week on getting a better effort. I’m real curious to see if that happens. If it doesn’t, coach Raheem Morris officially could move onto the hot seat. When a team isn’t giving much effort in the second half of a season, ownership -- and the rest of the world -- will look at that as a reflection on the coach.

[+] EnlargeJosh Freeman
Crystal LoGiudice/US PresswireBucs QB Josh Freeman has thrown 13 interceptions this season.
Running away:The Bucs have started slowly on offense pretty much all season and have had a tendency to fall behind early. That’s become an even bigger problem in the current three-game losing streak. The Bucs have been quick to abandon the run after falling behind. In the past three games, they’ve averaged just seven running plays in the second half. When that happens, quarterback Josh Freeman is placed in a tough spot. Freeman, who only threw six interceptions last season, already has thrown 13 this season. That leads the NFC and is second in the NFL. The last Tampa Bay quarterback to have 13 interceptions through the first nine games of a season was Trent Dilfer back in 1996.

Road woes: The Carolina Panthers have lost their past 11 road games. That ties them for the second-longest road losing streak in the league since 2006 and it’s the longest active streak in the NFL. The only longer streak was by the Lions, who lost 26 straight road games from 2007 to 2010.

Home woes:The Falcons were dominant in the Georgia Dome in the first three years of coach Mike Smith’s tenure. But they’re 2-2 at home this season. A loss to Tennessee on Sunday would give the Falcons more home losses than they’ve had in any season since Smith took over. But it’s not like the Georgia Dome has suddenly become a friendly place for visiting teams. It was about as loud as I’ve ever heard it last Sunday. People who say the Falcons are struggling at home need to remember their two losses have been to the Packers and Saints.

Stay in your lane: The Atlanta linebackers are going to be a key in Sunday’s matchup. They need to keep Chris Johnson from turning the corner. After a very slow start, Johnson has come on the past two games. Through Week 8, he was averaging just 2.5 yards per carry when running outside the tackles. In the past two games, he’s averaged 5.7 yards when running to the outside.

Defensive woes doomed Saints

September, 9, 2011
Aaron RodgersJeff Hanisch/US PresswireAaron Rodgers and the Packers eluded the Saints defense for 399 yards and 42 points.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The New Orleans Saints spent most of the preseason talking about how they wanted to get their defense back to its 2009 form.

It looked like they punched the wrong code into their time machine in Thursday’s 42-34 season-opening loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

Instead of the opportunistic defense that helped the 2009 team win the Super Bowl, what we saw against the Packers was the same defense we saw in last season’s playoff loss to Seattle, the 2008 defense or the 2007 defense. That’s not nearly good enough if you want to get back to the Super Bowl or be an elite team.

Sure, it’s only one loss and it came on a night when one of the league’s strongest fan bases was out in force to watch as the Packers unveiled their Super Bowl banner from last season. The Saints weathered an early storm and the game came down to one play -- rookie running back Mark Ingram getting stuffed at the goal line after the clock had run out.

“You play this game six months later, and it may end up with a different result,’’ New Orleans coach Sean Payton said.

That’s entirely possible, but only if the Saints start playing better defense. They can’t go on like they did against the Packers.

“When you have Drew Brees as your quarterback, you always have a chance,’’ safety Malcolm Jenkins said.

Yeah, but that's not an attitude you want your defense falling back on. You can’t afford to put everything on Brees’ shoulders all the time and expect to be mediocre. That’s what happened in 2007 when the Saints went 7-9 and in 2008 when they went 8-8. It’s also what happened in the playoff loss to Seattle.

Three first-quarter touchdown passes by Aaron Rodgers, all sorts of blown assignments and missed tackles helped the Packers make history. They scored the second-highest point total in a season opener in franchise history. The first was 53 in 1919, the first year the Green Bay franchise existed.

I have no idea what the 1919 Green Bay offense looked like, but I have no doubt it could have scored some points against this New Orleans defense. Second-year pro Patrick Robinson struggled as the nickelback, Roman Harper looked like he never left Seattle’s Qwest Field and the pass rush wasn’t all that much of a factor.

“The progress we make from Week 1 to Week 2 will be very important,’’ Payton said.

There’s no doubt about that. The Saints face another tough NFC North team Sept. 18 when they play host to the Chicago Bears. If there aren’t improvements by then, the Saints could be in bad shape. The Texans, who have some offensive weapons, are third on the schedule. The Falcons and Buccaneers, who have some offensive talent of their own, each are on the schedule twice, and there’s no doubt those NFC South opponents got some film from this game that could come in handy down the road.

“There will be a lot of things we see on tape we’ve got to clean up,’’ Payton said.

Some of it will have to do with fundamentals and some of it with the scheme. With top pass-rusher Will Smith serving a two-game suspension to start the season, the front four weren't able to generate a lot of pressure. The Saints, who blitzed more frequently than any other team in the league last season, did throw some blitzes at Rodgers, who has a history of being successful against the blitz. Rodgers completed 27 of 35 passes for 312 yards and was sacked twice.

[+] EnlargeSaints coach Sean Payton
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images"There will be a lot of things we see on tape we've got to clean up,'' Saints coach Sean Payton said.
“It’s a little bit of a cat-and-mouse game,’’ Payton said. “He’s got a quick release and a lot of targets. You recognize that you want to throw him off balance to some degree, and it’s a lot more challenging than it sounds.’’

Not every opposing quarterback is going to be as good as Rodgers, and not every offense is going to be as good as Green Bay’s.

“He’s as good a quarterback as we’ve gone against in a while,’’ linebacker Scott Shanle said.

But the Saints, who failed to produce a turnover, are starting off in dangerous territory.

They can’t afford to wait for Smith’s suspension to end to get their defense on track. That process has to start immediately, or the Saints run the risk of another 2007 or 2008.

In those days, Brees would put up big numbers every week, but the defense didn’t do much. That led to the firing of defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs after the 2008 season and the hiring of Gregg Williams to replace him in 2009. That first season, Williams brought a new attitude to the defense.

The championship team didn’t have a dominating defense that could shut down a team. What it had was an opportunistic defense that created a bunch of turnovers. That’s the form the Saints need to get back to quickly, or their season could slip away.

It could slip back to the point where Brees needs to be perfect every week for the Saints to even have a chance to win. He wasn’t perfect against the Packers. Instead, Brees was merely very good. He completed 32 of 49 passes for 419 yards and three touchdowns.

When you’re getting that kind of production from your quarterback and scoring 34 points, you should be able to win a lot of games. The Saints don’t have to be perfect on defense. They just have to do something they didn’t do against the Packers. They need to shut down a drive or two and make a few big plays. If they do that, they won’t have to rely on Brees to pull out miracles at the end.

If they can stop an offense every now and then, the Saints can get back to 2009. If not, they’ll go straight back to 2007 or ’08.

Looking at NFC South Power Rankings

September, 6, 2011
The Week 1 Power Rankings are up and the NFC South has three teams in the top 12. For what it’s worth this time of year, let’s remind you that 12 teams make the playoffs.

The New Orleans Saints are No. 5 and the Atlanta Falcons are No. 6. Fair enough. In my eyes, you can flip a coin on these two NFC South powerhouses.

But what I’m wondering is, what happens if the Saints go up to Lambeau Field on Thursday night and beat No. 1-rated Green Bay? Winning on the road against the Super Bowl champs? Shouldn’t that automatically vault the Saints over the Eagles, Steelers and Patriots and into the No. 1 spot?

I think so. But we’ll worry about that if the Saints win.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come into the season at No. 12. Not bad for the league’s youngest team. But we should get an early sense of what the Bucs are all about. On Sunday, they host Detroit, another young team that many think is on the rise.

In a bit of a surprise, the Carolina Panthers aren’t No. 32. Instead, they’re No. 31, one spot behind the Bengals. I’ve got a hunch the Panthers are going to be a lot better than last year. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they win their opener. It’s at Arizona.

The Cardinals are ranked No. 21. Yeah, I know they’ve added quarterback Kevin Kolb, but is he really going to change things that much and that fast for a team that was 5-11 last season?

Will Smith suspension official

September, 2, 2011
The NFL just made the official announcement that New Orleans defensive end Will Smith has been suspended for the first two games of this season.

He’s getting the same deal as Minnesota defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who also tested positive for the banned substance StarCaps in 2008. The NFL originally planned to suspend all players involved for four games. But the case was tied up in the legal system for more than two years and the suspension was reduced to two games.

Williams and Smith each will miss an additional two game checks. In Smith’s case, he is scheduled to make $352,941 per game, so the total for four games will come to $1,411,764.

Although the Saints have known for a long time that a Smith suspension was possible, the timing isn’t great. The Saints cut Alex Brown, last year’s other starting defensive end, earlier this week and they have to play their season opener Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

Brown’s departure and Smith’s suspension mean it’s almost certain first-round pick Cameron Jordan will start at one defensive end spot. But there’s not another clear-cut favorite for the other job. Unless the Saints bring in a veteran from somewhere else, the choices are Jeff Charleston, Turk McBride and Junior Galette.