December 12, 2010

Saints thump Rams with strong defensive showing, 31-13

The Saints made the best of the easiest game remaining on their schedule.

QB Drew Brees dominated the first quarter and jumped out to a 14-0 lead on the strength of two long touchdown drives.  Brees capped both drives with touchdown passes to Marques Colston, and the Saints controlled the ball for 13:01 in the first quarter.

Those 14 points prove to be enough to bury these Rams, a shadow of the team that haunted the Saints with a brutal, scratch-and-claw rivalry in the early 2000s.

The Saints opened scoring with a long scoring drive that took almost half the first quarter, ending with a five-yard strike to Colston.

Roman Harper snuffed out the Rams' first possession of the game with a forced fumble on RB Steven Jackson, which CB Jabari Greer recovered at the Saint 39.  The Saints moved down the field with some hard running by Chris Ivory, including an 18 yard scamper to the Ram 16.

Brees' touchdown pass to TE Jimmy Graham was nullified by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty because of a substitution infraction on the Saints' huddle, a bizarre penalty.

Not to worry, Brees hit Colston over the middle from 17 yards out for another touchdown pass.

In three second quarter possessions, the Saints offense cooled.  Those drives ended with a punt, a catchable fourth down pass off of Robert Meachem's hands, and a badly-thrown interception by Brees.  The Rams would find a pair of field goals after those drives, but no third down conversions.

Following their second field goal, Saints KR Courtney Roby was injured on the return, fumbling the ball over the Rams.  After a lengthy, prayer-filled delay, Roby was carted off of the field with a neck injury.  He was able to move his hands and feet. 

Taking over at the Saint 21 late in the second quarter, the Rams were desperate for 7 instead of 3.  Perhaps it was that desperation that forced rookie quarterback Sam Bradford to force a pass to his left that was intercepted by Malcolm Jenkins.  Two weeks after forcing a game-saving play in Dallas, Jenkins created a coffin-sealing turnover, racing 96 yards for a tackle-breaking touchdown return.

That was Jenkins' first interception of a outstanding sophomore season, but it wouldn't be his only of the day.

The Saints headed into halftime up 21-6 and with all the momentum they would need.

In the third quarter, the teams exchanged three-and-outs before the Rams gained traction only to be denied the end zone again.  The Saints again denied Bradford on third down, forcing a Josh Brown field goal from 46 yards that was no good.

The Saints drove on the resulting drive and Brees capped that with his third touchdown of the day, this one to a wide-open Lance Moore streaking down the left sideline.  The Saints moved their lead to 31-6 with a 40-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley early in the fourth quarter.

The Rams in the early fourth quarter moved down the field for yet another scoring attempt, without a single third down conversion to their name.  Sure enough, on 3rd and 2 from the Saint 7, Bradford rolled right and did a jump-pass into goal line traffic where Jenkins found his second interception of the game.

Three plays later though, Brees would tie his career high in season interceptions with a deep ball overthrown and intercepted by S Craig Dahl at midfield.  Brees had previously thrown 18 interceptions in a single season in 2007.

Getting the ball back with less than 10 minutes left in the game, the Rams would finally get their offense in gear.  With 8:29 left, a screen pass to RB Keith Toston secured the first third down conversion for St. Louis.  Three plays later, the Rams would convert a 4th and 18 with a long pass to Laurent Robinson when the Gregg Williams called for an 8-man blitz.  Robinson was ruled down at the one yard line, and the Saints defense stiffened on a run and forced an incompletion to bring up third down and less than a yard.

On a day when Saints FS Malcolm Jenkins made a name with interceptions, Roman Harper made a name in a different way.  On third down, RB Steven Jackson dove for the goal line and appeared to fumble the ball.  Harper picked up the fumble and raced downfield, only to be chased down by QB Sam Bradford.  Instead of a stiff arm or a fight, Harper cordially stepped out of bounds when Bradford caught him, a lowlight highlight that brought some tough ribbing from teammates.

The Rams challenged the play, and it was ruled that Harper's out-of-gas return was in vain - Jackson was down inches short of the goal line.  On fourth down, Bradford dove through the pile for the Rams' first touchdown of the day, with 5:26 left.

The Rams, down 31-13, had converted two fourth downs but only one third down.   The game ended at that score as both teams called off the attack.

The initial prognosis on Roby's injury is positive, though without detail.  RB Chris Ivory recorded seven carries, but none after the first quarter because of a hamstring injury.   The Saints held him out of the remainder of the game as a precaution.

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