It’s not just that the New Orleans Saints continue to stack wins in Drew Brees’ absence, the latest being Sunday’s 31-24 victory over Tampa Bay in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It’s that they haven’t lacked for standout plays and players in them, different heroes stepping up each game in order to ensure that New Orleans (4-1) remains atop the NFC South Division standings.
We’re well past the point of anyone believing the Saints will fold, and now at the point where it’s clear that there’s enough talent to not only hold the line until Brees returns, but to advance it. A few of those charged with advancing it shone against the Buccaneers:
OFFENSE: Ordinarily, I wouldn’t do this but since I make the rules here, I can change them when I want. So I’m going to break up this one among three entities. The first two are quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and receiver Michael Thomas. Bridgewater (26 of 34 for 314 yards and four touchdowns, with an interception) and Thomas (11 catches for 182 yards and two scores) pretty much were dared to punish the Bucs, and responded by riddling Tampa Bay with body blows and power punches. That connection looks better and better every week. The third entity was the offensive line, in its entirety. After piling up far more holding penalties than is acceptable in the first four games, the line committed a false start penalty, and that was it. Bridgewater had time (yep, given time, he and the offense can and will take shots) and New Orleans ground out 112 rushing yards against a defense that was allowing 59 rushing yards per game before Sunday. Clearly, it was the best offensive showing since the season opener against Houston.
DEFENSE: Rather than focus on the numbers cornerback Marshon Lattimore had, it’s better to look at the numbers Bucs receiver Mike Evans didn’t have. Evans – one of the best receivers in the NFL, by any measure – didn’t have a single catch against the Saints. He only was targeted three times Sunday, and if he can be defended any better than Lattimore defended him Sunday, I’d love to see it. Arguably, Lattimore has been at his highest level as an NFL player the last couple of games, against Dallas receiver Amari Cooper and Evans. He had three tackles and two passes defensed against the Bucs, but he spoke loudest via Evans’ silence. He said last week he wants to play at an All-Pro, Hall-of-Fame level and the last two weeks, he has been at his best. Defensive end Marcus Davenport also played one of his best NFL games, with two sacks, a forced fumble, a tackle for loss and three quarterback hits. He had a stretch where he looked almost unblockable. But Lattimore is the guy for Sunday.
SPECIAL TEAMS: There wasn’t much to chew on from the special teams units. Punter Thomas Morstead was effective, if not dazzling, with three punts for a 37.7-yard net and no returns allowed. There weren’t any kickoff returns, and Wil Lutz nailed the only field-goal attempt he had, a 29-yarder. Nothing fantastic jumped off the page on the positive side.