Rookie TE from the “U”, Jimmy Graham, celebrating his first career NFL TD
“That gives us a lot of momentum and positive thoughts moving forward, just to feel like you could do that against that type of defense when the game was really on the line. And you knew you needed to come up with some plays to win it.”
—Saints QB Drew Brees, on the huge win over the Steelers.
The New Orleans Saints came out like they had something to prove, particularly against a very tough division rival that has always been a thorn in their sides. After winning the toss and subsequently electing to receive to start the first half, the Saints came out smoking.
Julius Jones busted out the gate and picked up a quick 54 yards from scrimmage on the first play of the game. Chris Ivory also followed with an impressive run for back-to-back first downs. The next play, however, literally killed the otherwise masterful drive. After fumbling the snap, Drew Brees tried to hurry a pass in to Robert Meachem who had the ball ricochet off his hands only to be intercepted by Carolina’s Richard Marshall. After returning the ball back to to the 28-yard line of Carolina, the defensive back was brought down by a heads up play by Marques Colston. Carolina was able to advance the ball enough to get into a first-and-goal-situation, but once again the Saints defense came up huge and held them to a field goal. Just like that, the Panthers were on the board 3-0 off the Saints turnover. But that would be all they got on the day.
The Saints came out flat and out of sync after that, having to punt on their next possession. However, getting the defense back out on the field turned out to be just the spark the Saints needed to get the offense going. Darren Sharper laid the wood down on Jonathan Stewart, forcing him to fumble and also to have to leave the game with what was later reported as a head injury. The Saints recovered, but it was only ruled a fumble after a challenge by Sean Payton. New Orleans got the ball back on the Panthers 27-yard line and from there began a total domination of the Panthers from that point on. After a couple of ineffective downs, Drew Brees found Jeremy Shockey for a 7-yard touchdown, marking the 500th career catch for the ProBowl tight end. Shockey left the game with a rib injury and did not return. The score was 7-3 at that point.
The 2nd quarter didn’t go any better for the Panthers. After getting into scoring position for the second time, John Kasay failed to knock the field goal through, leaving Carolina hopelessly locked in at 3 points. Give the Saints defense a lot of credit because it came up huge again today. Those guys harassed Matt Moore until he was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury. Sedrick Ellis recorded his fourth sack of the year when he got to Moore following an all-out blitz. But they weren’t any lighter on Jimmy Clausen when he came in to replace the injured Moore. Jabari Greer intercepted Clausen and returned it for six and Leigh Torrence nailed the rookie quarterback for a critical sack, both in the 3rd quarter. Tony Pike eventually replaced Clausen at quarterback in the 4th. Roman Harper and Jeff Charleston also recorded sacks. On the day, the Saints smothering defense held the Panthers to a measly 195 total net yards, including a lowly 68 passing yards by three quarterbacks!
The powerful performance by the Saints defense obviously jolted the offense and inspired it to step things up. Jimmy Graham caught his first NFL touchdown, a 19-yarder. Then in the waning moments of the half, Brees threw a beautiful 36-yard pass to Lance Moore to put the Saints in striking distance once again. However, after picking up some impressive yardage on a short pass from Brees, Dave Thomas failed to get out of bounds to stop the clock and the Saints had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Hartley. The score at the half was 17-3. To show just how dominating the Saints performance was today, they’d outgained the Panthers 284 total yards to a meager 91 in the first half alone! Brees had already thrown 183 yards and 2 touchdowns. They went on to finish the day with 408 yards of total net offense. Brees was 27 of 43 for 253 yards, 2 first half touchdowns, and the one fluky interception. The rushing attack led by Julius Jones racked up 165 yards on the ground; Jones rushed for 68 yards on six carries. Marques Colston had another impressive performance, grabbing eight passes for 65 yards and the always reliable Lance Moore had six catches for 77 yards. Besides Shockey, Chris Ivory and Darren Sharper both left the game with injuries.
The Saints win today was much-needed and welcomed. They showed some consistency, which has been lacking a lot this season and they played like they had a purpose. This was important because Carolina is a team that has historically given the Saints some close competition. New Orleans goes into the bye 6-3, just a half game back behind the Atlanta Falcons for the number one slot in the division. They’ll get some key bodies back healthy and they’ll have lots of confidence to build on after coming off two critical wins back-to-back. In my opinion, the Saints should be looking pretty good as they tackle the rest of their schedule. If they play like they have the past two weeks, then they will control their own destiny for the rest of the season.