January 17, 2010

Saints dominate Cardinals in divisional playoffs, 45-14

It was the playoff performance of the ages.

For a franchise that has in its past had dominant defenses and more recently dominant offenses, they've never fielded a team for a dominant playoff win. Until Saturday in the Superdome against a Cardinals team reeling from a shootout playoff win and a host of defensive injuries.

The Saints' 45-14 playoff win was highlighted by feats of high-energy play.
  • Reggie Bush's first carry was a streaking toss stretch to the right side, and as he crossed the first down marker after a seven yard gain he trucked Cardinals CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Bush also had a big 11-yard slash on a carry in that drive to help the Saints' respond and overcome the Cardinal's momentum. Arizona RB Tim Hightower took the first offensive play of the game 70 yards for a touchdown off right tackle.
  • TE Jeremy Shockey's catch and big hit on the first drive down to the Arizona five yard line. Shockey took a body-spinning helmet hit from Pro Bowl Cardinals S Adrian Wilson but got up clapping, helmet slapping and generally igniting the fans in the end zone.
  • Lynell Hamilton scored from one yard out as the crowd rained down hails of newly-signed "Deeeuuuuuuce," who was on the 53-man roster but inactive. On Hamilton's score, FB Kyle Eckel blocked two Cardinal linebackers into eachother and Carl Nicks summarily threw Cardinal defensive tackle into the backfield. The Saints offense was fired up.
  • But the defense recovered quickly from their early gaffe. On the next play for the Cardinals, Darren Sharper recovered a fumble from Arizona's Jerame Urban, then went airborne and vaulted a tackler on his 13 yard return. That play was also big for CB Randall Gay, who was beaten on the deep crossing pattern but made up ground and punched the ball free.
  • Four plays later, Drew Brees found a one-footed Jeremy Shockey limping through his route and fired a bullet. Shockey made the catch for the Saints' second touchdown falling down, did a somersault to his feet to cheer. Shockey played on the drive despite noticeably slowed by a toe injury.
  • The New Orleans defense forced a three and out when Beanie Wells fumbled a snap, Fujita pressured Warner into a incompletion and then WR Early Doucet was stopped short of the first down on a crossing route.
  • The Saints offense kept their foot on the gas on the next drive, using a Devery Henderson wide receiver screen that was a pivotal play early on. Henderson fired up the crowd as he stubbornly broke two tackles and dove through two more on his way to a 16-yard gain, showing impressive running strength for a guy usually used for speed speed. Don't forget that Henderson was a star runningback at Opelousas high school. His run fired up the crowd, and but more significantly star Arizona CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie suffered a knee injury and was knocked out of the game.
  • On the next play, Reggie Bush ripped off one of the most wicked runs of his entire NFL career. Carrying the ball out of a 4WR set, Bush rolled out of an arm tackle from CB Bryant McFadden and reversed field. Then he juked upfield past DE Calais Campbell and a diving McFadden, and picked up a fantastic block from RG Jahri Evans and another from Marques Colston. He went from dancing to juking to shot straight out of a cannon and raced 48 yards for the longest rushing touchdown of his career, the second longest rush of his career. It was just one of many huge plays in Bush's day, and he finished with the highest yards/carry rushing average in league playoff history, 16.8, for players with a minimum of five carries.
  • On the next drive, Sedrick Ellis sacked Kurt Warner, just one Saint in a swarm to get there, and the Saints' defense forced a three and out. The Saints too would punt on the next drive, with rookie Thomas Morstead launching one from the Saints 34 that bounded in one hop quickly into the end zone - that's right, 66 yards.
  • Up 21-7, the Saints would allow the Cardinals one more touchdown on the day but not without a fight. Darren Sharper made an amazing interception of an overthrow Warner pass, a ball that bounced off his helmet and a spinning Sharper caught it on the rebound. But Scott Shanle drew a roughing the passer call when his outstretched arm caught Warner's helmet near the eye. Warner moved the Cardinals down and rookie RB Beanie Wells capped that drive with a short touchdown run.
  • The Saints snuffed out any Cardinal momentum there once and for all with a flea flicker touchdoww. After hitting Colston for 26 to near midfield, Brees handed off to Pierre Thomas, who run up and left before pitching back to Brees, who launched a deep pass to Devery Henderson. The ball was a bit short and behind but Henderson, just the latest Saint to abuse CB Bryant McFadden, made a fantastic adjustment and came down with the catch, rotating his hips all the way around.
  • Two plays later, DE Will Smith swatted and caught a low Warner pass for his second interception of the season and returned it five yards to the Arizona 27. Cardinals QB Kurt Warner was in pursuit of Smith when DE Bobby McCray blocked him blindside, into the 600 section. The vicious but legal hit sent Warner flying. Warner was knocked from the game and to the locker room. He started the second half but was out again when the game was over.
  • Brees turned Smith's big play into a touchdown when he hit Colston for a quick hitch touchdown, a drive that took eight plays to finally close 27 yards. Three straight penalties, an unnecessary roughness on Cardinals DT Darnell Docket, a false start on RT Jon Stinchcomb and holding on LG Carl Nicks turned a 3rd and 1from the 6 into 1st and goal from the 17. Two strikes to Colston closed that gap on a drive that took 4:38 and was thoroughly demoralizing. Colston was so much bigger and more athletic than the Cardinals' defensive backs he was rebounding, not catching, the footballs.
  • Backup QB Matt Leinart moved the Cardinals into range for a 50 yard field goal with short, quick passes against a prevent defense, but Neil Rackers missed the field goal attempt twice, the first after Payton iced him with a timeout.
The game was over at the half, with the Saints up 35-14. It was the most prolific scoring output in Saints playoff history, and it was only halftime.

The Saints had knocked QB Kurt Warner, FS Antrelle Rolle (head injury) and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (knee) out of the game. Warner would return to the field in the second half, but after the Saints pushed the score out of reach and Gregg Williams kept dialing up the heat on Warner, Leinart returned and closed out the game.

Remaining scoring would see the Saints converting a 43-yard field goal on their second possession of the third quarter, a kick by Garrett Hartley that hit the upper reaches of the net and might have been good from 60+.

On the next drive, a Cardinals punt would be brought back 83 yards by the lightning-quick Bush, who juked LS Mike Leach to the turf with a dagger cut up the middle of the punt coverage team. He raced around the right side of the field away from the hapless punter and in for the score, which with 6:42 left in the third quarter put nails in the coffin. Bush's huge game finished with 108 yards from scrimmage and 109 yards on punt returns and two playoff touchdowns.

Bush has had big playoff performances for the Saints, scoring in all three playoff appearances so far and none in less than spectacular fashion. He scored against the Eagles in 2006 on an acrobatic four yard bounce sprint to the front pylon of the end zone, against the Bears on an 88-yard catch and run, and Saturday against the Cardinals on two amazing displays of speed and agility.

Warner would lead the Cardinals on a drive into the Saints red zone but fail to convert a fourth and two. Leinart lead the two Cardinal drives of the fourth quarter that netted one first down and 24 yards total. The Saints ran down the clock with runningbacks Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell and Lynell Hamilton and Brees kneeled away the final 2:08.

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