Tampa, Fla. – Want to know what the New Orleans Saints are made of?
Trailing 14-3 at halftime, with a chance to win the NFC South Division for the second straight season hanging in the balance, New Orleans pitched a 25-0 shutout in the second half against Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
That, as much as anything is an indicator of the type of team the Saints (11-2) have been this season. Here are a few of the standout players who helped New Orleans win the division title in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history.
OFFENSE: The run-game numbers – 30 carries for 100 yards, with two touchdowns – weren't sterling. And Mark Ingram's contribution (13 carries for 52 yards and a touchdown) might not look like much on paper. But his bruising, 17-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter didn't just help New Orleans take a 25-14 lead; it also was his 49th career rushing touchdown, which ties him with Deuce McAllister for the most in franchise history. Too, the run epitomized the Saints' wearing down of Tampa Bay's defense in the second half.
DEFENSE: Cam Jordan is on some kind of roll. Obviously, the All-Pro defensive end is getting loads of help from his teammates: The Saints have allowed 17 or fewer points in five consecutive games, the first time a Saints defense has done that since Nov. 26 through Dec. 24 of the 2006 season. New Orleans shut out Tampa Bay in the second half, and gave up just 279 yards. But Jordan continues to pressure quarterbacks at the highest level, with two sacks on Sunday to boost his team-leading total to 12. He has had two sacks in each of the last three games, and he's one shy of tying his single-season high, set last year. And when he's not getting to the quarterback, he's pretty good at forcing offensive tackles to hold. He's capable of taking over any game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Is it overstating to say that Taysom Hill won this game for the Saints? I mean, the offense was stuck in the mud and the defense was holding on before his third-quarter punt block stirred the Saints' comeback. The block gave the Saints a short field (Dwayne Washington recovered at the Tampa Bay 30), the offense finally punched in a touchdown (Drew Brees' 1-yard pass to fullback Zach Line) and the Saints converted the two-point conversion to pull to within 14-11. From there, they were on their way. Hill has been a phenomenal, multi-purpose chess piece for New Orleans and Sunday's block was as big as any play he has made this season. The punt-block call wasn't even on; he saw a gap, sprinted through and turned the momentum in the Saints' favor.