Arguably, the New Orleans Saints played their most complete game of the season in Sunday's 30-10 victory over Tampa Bay in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, their sixth straight win after opening the season 0-2. It wasn't clean by any means, but overall it was efficient and effective, a victory over an NFC South Division rival that assured the Saints would remain in first place in the division. And there were more than a few standout individual performances to spotlight.
OFFENSE:Easy to go several ways with this one. Drew Brees (22 of 27 for 263 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions) could be the recipient every week. And collectively, the offensive line has been amazing in the way it has overcome injury after injury. On Sunday, left tackle *Terron Armstead left with a chest injury; left guard *Andrus Peat *icked out to play tackle and *Josh LeRibeus *cme in to play left guard, the third player who has played left guard in a regular-season game this season (along with Peat and *Senio Kelemete). The Saints also have had three different left tackles (Peat, Armstead and rookie Ryan Ramczyk), two right guards (Kelemete and Larry Warford)* an three right tackles (Ramczyk, Kelemete and *Zah Strief). But rookie running back *Alvi Kamara *simply has been a first-rounder masquerading in a third-round draft status. Kamara fumbled in the second quarter to end a Saints scoring threat; on the next drive, he took a screen pass 33 yards for a touchdown. He added a 6-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to boost the Saints' lead to 23-3 and finished with 68 yards on 10 carries, 84 yards on six receptions and the two touchdowns, which raised his total to a team-leading five this season. Much has been required of him, and he continues to deliver.
DEFENSE:Easy to go several ways with this one, too. There's the mainstay: defensive end Cam Jordan had 1.5 sacks, three quarterback hits, one tackle for loss and a team-high seven tackles. Few players can fill a stat-sheet better. Then, there's the fast-riser: defensive end *Alex Okafor almost has been as disruptive as has Jordan in the last three games, and had another superb showing Sunday that featured a half-sack (he shared his with Jordan), two quarterback hits and six tackles. But safety *Vonn Bell *as as visible and impactful as he has been this season with a half-sack (shared with *David Onyemata), two quarterback hits, a pass defensed, a forced fumble (fellow safety *Chris Banjo *rcovered) and five tackles. Doesn't matter whether Bell is listed as a starter; he plays that way.
SPECIAL TEAMS:This one was easy, because other than defensive back Justin Hardee, there were some forgettable plays. Hardee got the Saints off to a grand start, blocking a punt and returning it seven yards for a touchdown in the first quarter to give the Saints a 9-0 lead. It was the latest in a string of outstanding plays he has made on special teams, including tackles on punt returns. The Saints like his competitiveness and he has been a keeper, making notable plays in the kicking game. But the Saints will be first to admit that overall Sunday, it was an awful day in this phase of the game. After Hardee's touchdown, *Wil Lutz's *point-after attempt was blocked. Lutz also missed a 43-yard field goal attempt. Receivers *Ted Ginn Jr. and *Drew Brees *ach muffed a punt; Ginn recovered his, Snead lost his and it led to a 19-yard touchdown drive by Tampa Bay in the fourth quarter. And a trick-play kickoff return fell flat, with Ginn lateraling to *Tommylee Lewis *ad Lewis being tackled at the Saints' 7-yard line. Lewis tried to hide in the end zone by laying down on the second "S" in "Saints" to blend in, then springing up to catch a (hopefully) unaware opponent and pop a long return off the lateral. Obviously, it went awry, with Lewis slipping after catching the bounced lateral and, since the Bucs weren't fooled, being tackled at the 7 after gaining two yards. Hardee and *Thomas Morstead **(to punts for a 45.5-yard gross and net average) were about all there was to celebrate. The Saints don't necessarily need Hardee-type plays nowadays, but they can't have the significant negative ones.