September 6, 2007

Manning Shoots Down Saints, 41-10: Offense stifled while defense, CB David run down by Colts

The Saints started well, holding the Colts to a three-and-out on their first drive and then marching the ball down the field after the punt. But Olindo Mare missed a 52-yard field goal and gave the ball to the Peyton Manning at midfield.

CB Jason David was burned for the first time in the first quarter, beaten on the cut by Marvin Harrison, but then produced the Saints' first touchdown of the season when he stripped Reggie Wayne, picked up the fumble and raced 55 yards down the end zone. David's score gave the Saints a 10-7 lead in the first quarter.
Both defenses played well in the first half and fought to a 10-10 halftime score.

But in the third quarter, the Saints unraveled. Mike McKenzie allowed a long completion to Marvin Harrison, then RB Joseph Addai punched it in for the 17-10 lead. Then Manning and Reggie Wayne went off, hooking up for two more touchdowns on deep passes when David was simply outrun in man coverage.

Runningbacks Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush were shut down, both trying hard to make something happen. The Saints had some success running delays and draws to slow down the swarming Colts defense, but it never opened up downfield passing lanes. McAllister and Bush had almost identical stats, combining on 22 carries for 77 yards.

The Saints' offense, tops in the league last year and on target in preseason, was smothered. Dropped passes by Reggie Bush and Eric Johnson didn't help. Brees started off leading the Saints to two long sustained drives, picking up four straight third down conversions, but Olindo Mare missed his first field goal from 52 yards before hitting from 34 yards out.

Early on, Dwight Freeney got a hand in Brees' facemask and gouged out his left contact lens. The unpenalized play that forced Brees' pass to Reggie Bush to fall short seemed to knock Brees off for one reason or another. Officials called a very relaxed game.

Brees even caught one of his own passes - deflected back at the line - but his scramble to the right was one yard short on third down near the end of the first half.

Brees was never able to throw the ball down the field, as Tony Dungy's Cover 2 defense blanketed started Marques Colston (seven catches for 48 yards) and Devery Henderson (three catches for 34 yards). Veteran WR David Patten caught two passes for 18 yards. Bush caught four passes for six yards, a stat line reminiscent of his early 2006 performances.

TE Eric Johnson started and caught eight passes for 56 yards, showing some good moves after the catch. Johnson also fumbled once, but miraculously found it at the bottom of the pile himself.

Manning was on fire in the second half, while Brees struggled, throwing ill-advised passes that once forced Marques Colston to make a remarkable acrobatic catch, and another duck that was intercepted by LB Freddie Keiaho. In the fourth, Brees got something going but was stripped when DE Robert Mathis beat RT Jon Stinchcomb.

Later in the fourth, down by 24, Brees was moving the ball again but was picked for a second time by DB Matt Giordano, who raced down the sideline for an 82-yard touchdown. Brees finished 28 of 41 for 192 yards and two interceptions.

The Colts' 34 unanswered points after the Saints' 10-7 lead in the second quarter were more than enough to make he final quarter of the game uninteresting. Addai finished with 118 yards rushing, keeping Brees off rhythm and off the field.

The Saints defense has been thought the weakness of the team, and perhaps it is unfair to condemn them for going against the NFL's best quarterback in the home of the Super Bowl champions. David allowed deep touchdown passes behind him of 27, 29 and 46 passes. Despite his fumble recovery touchdown it was an awful night for the former Colt, returning to his former team. Going against rookie LT Tony Ugoh, DE Will Smith consistently got pressure on Manning, and drew an early false start from the rookie, but never got the sack. LB Scott Fujita played well, making a good deep pass breakup and with the return of enforcer Roman Harper, the Saints landed some solid hits.

Notes: While top draft pick WR Robert Meachem was inactive, third round pick CB Usama Young played and was the team's gunner on punt coverage... One bright spot was special teams, where WR Lance Moore ripped off two good returns and Steve Weatherford was brilliant, averaging close to 49 yards on five punts and putting two inside the 20... Brees' 6.87 yards/completion was the 8th lowest in NFL history... On nationally televised games, including two preseason games, the Saints are 0-3... Nothing more than symbolic but meaningful was with the time running off, Saints team captain Drew Brees called a timeout with eight seconds left. The ensuing handoff to Aaron Stecker was of no importance, but signaled that this Saints team has yet to give up.

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