For the ninth consecutive time on a Monday night, the New Orleans Saints stepped onto the national stage and pounded their opponent off the platform, with nothing left to brace the fall but the unforgiving Mercedes-Benz Superdome turf.
The Saints (4-0) remained unbeaten, and joined four other NFL teams in that category, courtesy of a 38-17 victory over Miami that added to their stretch of Monday excellence. New Orleans had beaten its previous eight Monday night opponents by an average score of 36-20.
It handled Miami in a fashion that, for the second consecutive week, might qualify as its most complete win of the season.
The offense rolled to a season high in points, total yards (465) and passing yards (397), and went three for four in the red zone. The defense produced four turnovers, including three interceptions, and four sacks while limiting Miami to three third-down conversions in nine attempts.
And yet another opponent – a previously undefeated opponent – wasn't able to make a dent in the return game. The Dolphins returned a punt for five yards and averaged 22.7 yards on three kickoffs.
"With the players we have, I think we look forward to playing on the big stage," said cornerback Jabari Greer, whose second-quarter interception and 22-yard return set up a touchdown (a 13-yard pass from Drew Brees to Darren Sproles) that allowed New Orleans to take a 21-10 lead into halftime.
"We have guys who ultimately answer the bell."
They've also proven capable of ringing a few, too.
The Saints opened with a six-play, 82-yard touchdown drive that lasted just 3:08, and ended on a 5-yard run by Sproles, who tormented the Dolphins (3-1) with seven receptions for 114 yards, four runs for 28, three punt returns for 44 and two kickoffs for 36.
Miami responded by driving for a field goal, a 34-yarder by Caleb Sturgis with 4:46 left in the first quarter.
From there, the Saints punted twice, and Miami once, before the Saints' defense stepped up the production. The Dolphins drove from their 9-yard line to New Orleans' 48 on five plays, were penalized five yards for illegal formation, then watched quarterback Ryan Tannehill scramble for eight yards before being run down and stripped from behind by Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton.
When safety Rafael Bush recovered at the Saints' 38-yard line, New Orleans' offense cashed in with a seven-play, 62-yard drive that widened the lead to 14-3 and was capped by a 27-yard pass from Brees to tight end Jimmy Graham, who continued to light up the young season.
Brees completed 30 of 39 passes for a season-high 413 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions, tying his own NFL record with his ninth consecutive game with at least 300 passing yards. Graham caught four passes for 100 yards and two scores, the third consecutive week he has had at least 100 receiving yards. His six touchdowns is tied for the league lead and his 458 receiving yards is second, behind Julio Jones' 481.
After the Saints forced a punt to end Miami's opening drive of the third quarter, and drove 59 yards in eight plays for their fourth touchdown and a 28-10 lead with 9:44 left in the third, the Dolphins wouldn't narrow the gap closer.
"That was a good, hard-fought team win," Coach Sean Payton said. "We did a lot of things well.
"Certainly, it wasn't a perfect game but I thought we played with very good energy. We had a good week of practice and I thought we played a good team. We knew we were going to have to play one of our better games."
Across the board, the Saints did exactly that. But no one more so than Brees, who surpassed Hall of Famer John Elway on the career completions list. Brees now has 4,146 completions, fourth-most in NFL history.
"He was at a real sharp level," Payton said. "He did a good job with his progressions, protected the football well and he was outstanding."
"It is momentum," Brees said. "Coming out of halftime, our defense gets a three-and-out. We get the ball in good field position, march down the field and score.
"The defense stops them again. We get good field position and go down and score. Then, you feel like you are operating at a high level and that anything that you call is going to work."
That feeling especially seems to be prevalent on Monday nights for the Saints. Nine consecutive times, and counting.
"We understand what the culture is here," Greer said. "When it's time, the lights are on, you have to be able to play effectively."