December 19, 2009

13-1: Brees sieged by Dallas as Romo rips Saints defense; thrilling comeback bid falls short in Superdome, 24-17

  • The Cowboys opened the game with two touchdown drives, and added a third in the beginning of the second half. Those three drives suffocated a Saints defense that for the first time, was unable to become its shortcomings.

    To counter, the Saints opened the game with two three-and-outs followed by a four-and-out and found themselves down 14-0 at the end of the first quarter.

    Against the Cowboys, Gregg Williams was unable to hide his rookie cornerback Malcolm Jenkins or his aging free safety Darren Sharper. Both were abused by Romo's arm and targets Miles Austin and Jason Witten.

    On Romo's first touchdown, Austin beat Jenkins easily with a doublemove and Sharper was a few years late getting to the sideline over the top.

  • On the ground, Marion Barber scored twice for the Cowboys, slipping through and over countless tackle attempts. It was a telling sign of the Saints' defensive play tonight when on Barber's first quarter touchdown run, Roman Harper, a strong safety in the NFL and usually an enforcer for big hits on defense, went to his knees at the one yard line, throwing his back into Barber's path. Barber easily vaulted Harper's pathetic tackle attempt.

    It was a rough night for Harper, though he had a big play dropping Felix Jones for a two yard loss on a key drive in the fourth quarter when the Saints were only down 7.

    Of anyone, Will Smith carries the least burden for this poor defensive performance. Smith sacked Tony Romo twice and had a big stop for a loss on the Cowboys' final drive.

  • The Cowboys owned third down against the Saints defense, as Tony Romo's improvisations more often than not paid off. A dropped Roman Harper interception was one of the highlights of his otherwise lousy performance, and one of the few bad things that ever happened to Romo during a scramble.

  • On offense, the Saints struggled against Cowboys defensive ends Anthony Spencer and Demarcus Ware. Both Saints tackles were beaten and with Jeremy Shockey out, the Saints had two healthy tight ends and runningbacks to throw at the pass rush.

    Brees suffered two turnovers on consecutive drives to snuff out any hopes of a second quarter surge, first underthrowing a deep pass to a streaking Devery Henderson and then stripped of the ball by Ware, who beat LT Jermon Bushrod.

  • In Shockey's absence, TE David Thomas had a huge night receiving, but the blocking on the edge was sorely missed. The Saints suffered another injury during the game when RB Reggie Bush, who ripped off a 29-yard run early on, caught a pass on a wide open crossing patten but pulled up lame and limped off the sidelines. CB Mike Jenkins escorted him out of bounds and tapped him on the helmet. Bush spent the rest of the game in various uncomfortable stretching positions on the bench, or pedaling the bolts off an exercise machine.

  • The Saints mounted their comeback bid in the fourth quarter, a time when the Patriots gave up and pulled their starters three weeks ago.

    Mike Bell cashed in a short TD run in an unconventional way - turning an inside run to the edge and diving for a falling, spinning touchdown. That drive was big for the Saints, a nine-play, 80-yard drive fueled by a 45-yard catch, dodge and run by Marques Colston and strikes of 13 and 18 yards to David Thomas. The Saints were moving down the field quickly in a hurry-up offense that prevented the Cowboys from substituting.

    The defense responded by forcing a three and out, benefiting from a big drop by WR Roy Williams on third down on a quick slant and an illegal procedure penalty on Dallas.

    Lance Moore capped off the next Saints drive with a quick strike and a walk-in touchdown. Fantastic blocks by Marques Colston and Robert Meachem on defensive backs escorted Moore in from seven yards away on first and goal. That drive was a 70-yard, 8-play drive that took only 3:23 off the clock in the first half of the fourth quarter, kicked off by a spinning, powering screen pass run by Pierre Thomas.

    That score from Brees to Moore put Brees ahead of Aaron Brooks with 121 career touchdown passes as a Saint.

    But down seven with only minutes left, the Saints defense didn't have another three-and-out in them, losing Miles Austin in the secondary for 32 yard gain and on the next play, a madly scrambling Romo found Witten rumbling down the sideline for 23 yards. The Saints burned their second and third timeouts with more than three minutes left, trying desperately to stop the Cowboys from churning clock with a touchdown lead.

    With just over two minutes left in Washington, the Redskins missed a field goal wide right up by 7 points, which opened a door just a bit. Brees kicked down that door, moving in for a quick strike touchdown to Meachem and then a game-winning field goal aided by a big defensive play by Jonathan Vilma.

    With just over two minutes Saturday night in the Superdome, Nick Folk plunked his 24-yard kick off the right crossbar, giving the ball to Brees with 2:16 left in the fourth quarter. But Brees tossed incomplete to an interfered-with Colston over the middle (no flag), then caught his own pass, deflected high into the air, and was dropped for a four yard loss. On 3rd and 14 an under-pressure Brees could only complete a desperation dump off pass to Pierre Thomas.

    That set up 4th and 10, with the undefeated season on the line, Brees stepped up to narrowly avoid a sack to hit Colston near the marker, where the big receiver broke a tackle and gained 13 yards, a temporary reprieve. An out pattern to Pierre Thomas resulted in a first down, out of bounds dive at the New Orleans 45 with :32 left. A comeback route to Devery Henderson with :18 got another first down at the Dallas 42. But on two straight plays, Spencer and Ware got on Brees' back. The first was ruled an incomplete pass, but the second was a forced fumble and a recovery by Dallas. Game over.

    It was just another of many, many snaps on which Jermon Bushrod was outmatched at left tackle by the superior Dallas pass rushers. On that snap and others, Pierre Thomas was busy helping block elsewhere on the line, which was under siege all night.

  • The 13-1 Saints remain one game ahead of 11-2 Minnesota in the race for home field advantage. The Saints might get some help from their NFC South rival Carolina when the Panthers and Vikings play Sunday night.

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