The dramatic appeal of the league's most competitive quarterback controversy took a major blow Saturday night. When Aaron Brooks opened 10-for-10 with one touchdown, and Jeff Blake followed up with a 4-9, 41 yard, one interception performance, it left much controversy to be desired. To be perfectly honest, there is no longer a competition for the starting spot.
While Brooks' performance was not totally perfect, with a sack he should have avoided and a delay of game penalty, it was one of the best performances by a Saints quarterback in a single quarter with a 152.1 QB rating. On the other hand, Blake's performance was one that can't be taken at face value. Sure, his miserable 18.5 QB rating, several overthrown passes, and uncharacteristic lack of mobility were not what we saw last year, neither was the supporting cast. Blake entered the game with the second string offense. And if you were disappointed with the first string offensive line, the second string made you nauseous. Not only could the line not open up running lanes, but they couldn't establish a pocket and widen the passing lanes for a 6'0" Jeff Blake. Blake's first snap was a sack. So was his fourth snap. His eighth snap was also a sack, and a fumble that Wally Williams picked up. His 11th snap was an interception. Oh yeah, his 12th snap was a sack, and on the 13th snap he was forced out of the pocket as soon as he completed his hurried three-step drop. When he's sacked that many times, its no wonder he couldn't do much. I would hope, in fairness, that Blake gets to play this preseason with the first string.
The most surprising story was Deuce McAllister, who in his first live game action as a Saint featured three fumbles, including a muffed kickoff return and punt return. The worst highlight was when Deuce fielded a punt inside his own five, dropped it between his legs, and while looking up at the oncoming tacklers, tried to pick it up but instead kicked it backwards into the end zone, were it was recovered for a touchdown by the Vikings. Luckily, the Vikes were guilty of illegal formation and Minnesota had to re-punt. When they did so, it was WR Michael Lewis fielding the ball. The butterfingers can only be attributed to rookie jitters, as one of Deuce's strongpoints of play are his soft, sticky hands.
Comfortingly, Deuce's special teams follies were offset by some promising play with the second and third string offenses. Deuce was second on the team with four receptions for 43 yards and a touchdown. On his 11-yard touchdown catch Deuce displayed good running instincts as he moved two yards through four Viking defenders, spinning against the grain and using his exceptional balance to step into the end zone.
Speaking of WR Michael Lewis, he might just be a sleeper in the competition for one or two available wide receiver spots. Lewis is probably the fastest guy on the team and was one of the fastest players in NFL Europe this past season. Lewis had some great kick returns and outran the secondary late in the game only to bobble and drop a well-placed bomb by Delhomme. Lewis has all the speed in the world and the moves to be a good returner but his size (5'8", 164 pounds) and his lack of experience (didn't play college football) are holding him back. Lewis has some serious competition from Onome Ojo, Robert Wilson, Anthony Collins, Jimmy Robinson, and other young wide receivers for two, maybe three backup wide receiver roster spots.
Don't fret about the loss. From a talent evaluation standpoint it was a victory for the Saints, who gave plenty of playing time to their younger player who needed the experience. Onome Ojo, despite repeatedly getting lost on the field and frustrating Jake Delhomme by lining up incorrectly, caught his first touchdown pass and is well on his way to becoming a complete NFL receiver. Delhomme himself silenced the pundits by showing playing the position with more maturity and poise than his two previous NFL starts in 1999. Jake still showed some accuracy problems and made some poor decisions, including a clock management difficulty late in the game. Nevertheless he is probably one of the best third string quarterbacks in the league.