October 25, 2009

True Grit In Miami

  • The Saints have proven without a doubt that they are the toughest, most determined team in the league. Regardless of the competition, a now 2-4 Miami team, this Saints team overcame a 24-3 second quarter deficit by pure strength of will.

    The Saints won 46-34, shutting out the Dolphins in the fourth and scoring the final 22 points in the last 15 minutes.

  • Sure, the Dolphins choked in the fourth quarter. Drops by a top 10 draft pick, illegal forward passes by wide receivers, penalties galore. But how many of Miami's self-inflicted wounds were caused by panic stemming from New Orleans' huge comeback bid?

  • CB Tracy Porter sealed the game with a 53-yard touchdown return of a Chad Henne interception with two minutes left in the game. Henne's pass went out to the sidelines where no receiver was within ten yards, except for Porter. His sprinter's speed and one cut carried him into the end zone. But that was the just the last of a long, long list of defensive excellences on this day for the Saints.

  • The Wildcat, Miami's dual-RBs, QB-less running scheme tore the Saints up as predicted. The Dolphins dominated the first 28 minutes of the game. Former Saints franchise Ricky Williams and running mate Ronnie Brown gashed the Saints defense badly in the first 30 minutes with 108 yards rushing and three touchdowns between them, including a 68-yard toss sweep to the left when the Saints didn't touch Williams.

  • Brees' two first half interceptions were each cashed in for Ricky Williams touchdowns. Brees also absorbed three sacks in the first half and hit only 12 of 22 passes for a pitiful QB rating of 29.4.

  • The turning point in the first half came when S Roman Harper forced a WR Davone Bess fumble near midfield with 1:38 left on the clock. Drew Brees promptly marched the Saints down the field with connections with Lance Moore, Jeremy Shockey and Devery Henderson. From the Miami 21, Brees fired for Colston at the goal line, who went up high to make the catch and then pivoted in the ground, stretching out for the end zone with five seconds left. The play was ruled a touchdown but was reviewed and overturned - with Colston ruled down inside the one yard line.

    At that point, the Dolphins inexplicably called a timeout, giving more time for the Saints to consider the field goal or the last-second play. Brees was seen on the sidelines, and Payton admitted later, changing his head coach's mind and putting the offense on back the field. Brees quick-snapped and leapt over the top of his center, pushing the ball over the goal line and scoring with two seconds left.

  • Brees' last-second score before halftime gave the Saints much-needed momentum going into the locker room down 24-10. It was a valuable mental boost that paid off the way a field goal would not have.

  • But Brees' second half was a big difference. The first two possessions of the second half also ended in turnovers - an interception on a deep pass in the end zone on a marvelous play by Dolphins DB Nate Jones, and a sack fumble forced by Jason Taylor and recovered by the Dolphins. But the Saints defense held fast after those two mistakes, forcing a three-and-out and a field goal.

    But after that fumble, Brees' next four possessions: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, field goal. His QB rating in the second half was a far better 99.5 as he hit on 10 of 16 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown to Marques Colston. Brees also added his second rushing touchdown on a beautiful keeper read when he drove straight ahead of an unsuspecting Dolphins defense from two yards out. It wass the first game in Brees' career that he scored twice on the ground. Brees punctuated that lead-grabbing touchdown by slam dunking the football over the goal post.

    Brees' story of second half improvement was a testament to his grit and determination but should also attributed to the Saints' commitment to the running game. The Saints rushed the ball 19 times in the second half after only 8 attempts in the first. Twelve of those 19 attempts were Mike Bell, who didn't get a carry in the first half.

    Bell announced his entrance into the game with a 35 yard blast off right tackle on his first carry in the third quarter. Ten of Bell's carries were on first down, the other two were on second down. Bell finished with 80 yards.

  • RB Reggie Bush had only three carries on the day, and was targeted six times for three catches. But his last carry was a doozy. Bush took an end-around reverse up the left side from ten yards out, picking up a block from Brees in the backfield and Jahri Evans in the flat. With a full head of steam, Bush leapt from the six yard line towards the left pylon with both arms extended and legs galloping in the air, crossing the pylon in the air. It was an outstanding, remarkable play that only Reggie Bush could have made. That score put the Saints within three points at 34-31 early in the fourth quarter.

    ESPN's Chris Mortensen commented: "We can knock Reggie Bush all we want but he does a few Jordanesque things near goal line when he's healthy."

  • Bush's touchdown was set up by Jeremy Shockey, who made the first of three big fourth quarter receptions. Shockey caught a deep seam pass on the first play of the fourth quarter and then shoved and pushed and punched Gibril Wilson all the way down to the Miami 13 for a 66-yard gain.

    On the next drive, down three points, Brees went to Shockey again, hitting him for 16 and 14 yard strikes to put the Saints into the red zone. Three plays later Brees rushed in from two yards out for a 37-34 lead the Saints wouldn't surrender.

  • The Saints' special teams issues rose again after that touchdown, with Mark Brunell mishandling the long snap and Carney's extra point sailing wide right. Coverage teams, however, did not predictably suffer from two of their leaders, Troy Evans and Jo-Lonn Dubar, playing in place of injured strongside linebacker Scott Fujita. The Saints allowed two fourteen yard punt returns and a 34 yard kickoff return, but otherwise bottled up Ted Ginn and Davone Bess. Courtney Roby's huge 87-yard kickoff return to the Dolphins 15 yard line set up the Saints' first field goal of the day. Roby was literally a fingertip tackle away from his first return touchdown.

  • On the day, the Saints defense was lead by their veteran commanders Jonathan Vilma and Darren Sharper. Even when the Dolphins were having success with the Wildcat in the first half, Vilma and Sharper were there making huge hits. After allowing 120 yards of rushing in the first half, the Saints defense turned to stone and shut down the Dolphin rushing attack, allowing only 17 more yards on the ground.

    Instead, the Dolphins, desperately trying to put more points on the board, turned to youngster QB Chad Henne, who passed for 149 of his 211 yards in the second half. Henne finished with a passer rating of only 45.0, completing half his 36 attempts. Both of his second half interceptions were returned for touchdowns, one by Sharper and a last by CB Tracy Porter, who sealed the game with a 42-yard return.

    Porter was also in on Sharper's interception, twice tipping the deep pass before Sharper corralled it and raced down the right sideline before diving for the right pylon. Sharper has set the franchise record with three interception return touchdowns in a single season.

    For Vilma's part, he brutalized Ricky Williams with several huge hits. S Roman Harper was a goat for not being fast enough to run down Williams on his long first half touchdown, but delivered some big hits of his own including forcing a fumble on Davone Bess.

  • RT Jon Stinchcomb, DT Sedrick Ellis and FB Heath Evans were all injured in the game. Stinchcomb managed to return to the game, while Evans appeared to fall on the football after a screen pass in the fourth quarter. Ellis' right knee injury is the most serious and the most potentially damaging.

    Ellis was helped off the field and wheeled into the locker room, and he will likely have an MRI in New Orleans on Monday. DT Anthony Hargrove entered the game next to Remi Ayodele on the line, and its difficult to imagine the Saints playing with those two men on the middle of the defensive line. Hargrove did collect both Saint sacks. The defense as a whole played well with Ayodele and Hargrove in the middle, but Ellis' absence could be a significant loss for this Saints defense.

    Ellis plays the off-tackle in the Saints defense, with Ayodele or Clancy lining up at nose tackle. The 6-0 Saints will likely promote former draft pick DT DeMario Pressley off the practice squad this week if Ellis is out for next week's tilt against the 4-2 Falcons.
  • Post-game tweets:

    S Usama Young wrote: "6-0!!! Tough one but we pulled it out. Thanks for the support... Who dat! One more thing...Y can't it b an icetub on the plane? Stay focusd"

    QB Chase Daniel wrote: "
    Who Dat nation came put in full force in Miami! So many Saints fans there! Huge win!"

    WR Courtney Roby wrote: "
    We have the best fans in the world!! Tha NOLA support was deep in MIAMI...hard game but as a TEAM we pulled it out..6-0 WHO DAT!!"

    RB Reggie Bush wrote: "
    Great Win for the Saints again! Probably our toughest test yet! Hats off to Miami Dolphins. God is good! Need to get in ice tub ASAP!! lol!"

    Hornets PG Chris Paul wrote: "
    SAINTS!!! Nuff said..."

    Reggie Bush added later: "
    Man Saints fans are crazy! Lol! It's at least 500 people out here waiting for us at the airport! Best fans in football!" and then corrected: "Ok maybe a thousand fans!"

NOPF News Archive