December 4, 2011

Saints Torch Lions in Prime Time: 31-17 dismantling of error-prone Detroit

Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees lit up the Mercedes-Benz Superdome turf again on Sunday night football, combining for 750 passing but it was countless Detroit mistakes that continually undid Jim Schwartz's Lions.

The Saints raced to a 17-0 lead and went into halftime up 24-7 after a 21-point second quarter explosion.  In the third quarter, the Drew Brees and the defense responded well to a 10-point third quarter from Matthew Stafford's passing attack.

Gregg Williams' strategy against Stafford was to double-team his superstar target Calvin Johnson, and with a combination of defensive backs he did, holding "Megatron" to six catches for 69 yards.  But most of Stafford's 44 pass attempts were to downfield pedestrian targets like the penalty-factory that is Nate Burleson, hothead rookie Titus Young and a crew of tight ends.

Brees and the offense was near-perfect, hitting 26 of 36 passes for 342 yards and three scores, while Mark Ingram paced the running game with 16 carries for 54 yards and the game's first touchdown from 14 yards out.

Each team managed a rushing first down on their first possession, but punted after their passing games misfired.  Mark Ingram had a powering, spinning fifteen yard rush on the first play of the drive, but passed off the fingertips of Lance Moore and Devery Henderson were incomplete and the Saints punted on 4th and 2.

The Saints did enjoy the return of defensive captain middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma.  On third down of the Lions' first drive, Matthew Stafford's pass over the middle was off the fingertips of RB Kevin Smith and then in and out of the hands of Jonathan Vilma, who dropped the interception deep inside Lions territory.

The Saints worked Marques Colston into the action on the second drive with two short catches, and converted a 3rd and short conversion by Ingram.  Brees threaded the needle on the next third down, a laser strike over the middle to Graham to the Lion 31.  Brees' next downfield strike was to Colston, who bobbled the pass in stride at the Lions 5.  CB Eric Wright also had it in and out of his hands, and they watched the ball fall to the turf in the end zone.

Brees hit Lance Moore on the shallow out to the right, Moore's killer pattern to the sideline of Super Bowl XLIV fame, picked up another first down to the Lion 20.  Brees tested downfield again, firing for Jimmy Graham down the right sideline but overthrown.

On the next play, DT Nick Fairley disengaged from LG Carl Nicks and dropped Mark Ingram for a yard loss, setting up 3rd and 11. Brees fired too high for Moore in traffic at the 5, and Kasay's field goal gave the Saints a 3-0 lead.

After an illegal formation wiped out a long comeback reception by Calvin Johnson, Stafford converted a 3rd and 9 with a crossing route to Titus Young.  Stafford faced another 3rd and long and he hit TE Tony Sheffler against Roman Harper for the first down and more.  A holding flag on RB Kevin Smith brought the play back, when Smith tackled blitzing Jonathan Vilma around the legs.  Two big plays, two flags wiped them out.  This was the beginning of a long, monotonous story of mistakes by Detroit.

The Lions pinned the Saints deep but with the first play of the second quarter on third and long, Brees from his goal line fired deep down the left sideline for Robert Meachem in single coverage.  Meachem, one of departing Curtis Johnson's pupils, made a fantastic over the shoulder catch near midfield, a 38-yard gain.

After making a few good plays in the first quarter, Lions first round pick Nick Fairley left the game in at the break with an apparent foot injury, and wasn't available when the Saints moved down the field on their 97-yard touchdown drive that was capped by Mark Ingram, who bounced outside and raced down the right sideline for a 14-yard score.

An 18-yard strike to Colston over the middle and an eight-yard end-around rush by Meachem set up Ingram's score, as the Saints moved 97 yards in 10 plays for the 10-0 lead.

The Lions faced 3rd and 18 after a blown-up screen pass and an up-the-middle sack by Scott Shanle, but Kevin Smith's next screen was wide open. With blockers, Smith juked around Scott Shanle and with Brandon Pettigrew escorting, Shanle finally tackled him across the first down marker.  Three plays later on 3rd and short, Shaun Rogers pancaked a scrambling Stafford who threw the ball away under duress.

On the Saints' next drive, Brees dropped deep out of I-formation play action, baited and waited and found Robert Meachem wide open in the Lions secondary, running away from Eric Wright.  With Wright in front of him, Meachem juked at the catch, changed directions twice as Wright chased from a backpedal and never touched him.

Meachem did get away with a good tug on Wright's jersey on his deep slant cut, but it wasn't called.  Meachem's 67-yard touchdown pass was the second straight huge catch for him in as many drives, and put the Saints up 17-0 with 8:16 left in the half.  Meachem would finish with 119 yards on just three catches.

The Lions took over and their own 20, and WR Nate Burleson picked up gains of 17 and 18, as part of a string of first downs for the Lions who finally got their offense engaged on their fourth drive of the game.  A slant to Calvin Johnson for 14 yards set the Lions up with first and goal after he bowled between Patrick Robinson and Shanle.  On the next play, Smith punched it in from four yards out.  NBC cameras on that goal line play showed the Saints using Malcolm Jenkins and Patrick Robinson standing shoulder to shoulder at the line in front of Calvin Johnson.

Taking over at their own 20, the Saints got quick gains to Colston for 13 and to Sproles for 5 before the two minute warning.  A quick flare to Sproles netted a short gain, so the Saints faced 3rd and 4 with 1:53 left in the game at their own 39.  Against the blitz, Graham slanted over the middle for the easy completion, and the hurry-up offense was on.  Brees dropped back again, tried to climb out of the pocket but was sacked for a three yard loss by DT Sammie Lee Hill.

Hurrying back up to the line, Brees cooly hit Sproles wide open digging underneath and breaking free up the middle, the same exact play that made his first Saint highlight in week one against the Packers.  Sproles then picked up another 13 on an outlet pass to the right.  Tackled just short of the sideline, the Saints used their last timeout.

From the 20, Brees fired over the middle for Lance Moore, who climbed high and caught the touchdown pass between S Chris Harris and LB Stephen Tulloch, surviving two hits and spinning in midair to keep the pass in his chest.  It was just another show-off play for the remarkable targets of Drew Brees, who was 17/22 for 252 yards and two touchdowns through five drives.

Taking over with just :18, CB Patrick Robinson let WR Titus Young run right by him and FS Malcolm Jenkins didn't follow, and Stafford fired a rocket down the left sideline, hitting Titus Young at the Saint 42 with Robinson catching up and throwing him out of bounds at the Saint 24.  Stafford took a shot for the end zone that was overthrown.  With :03 left, the Lions lined up for a field goal and Robinson atoned for the mistake.

Turning the corner quickly, Robinson got his fingertips on the kick, which landed well short in the end zone.  Jim Schwartz and his assistants screamed that the Saints were offsides in vain, and the teams went to the locker rooms.

The Lions received the second half kickoff and moved down into the Saints redzone, with a 22 yard strike to Calvin Johnson on the first play, then Kevin Smith rushed 17 yards into Saints territory.  Stafford hit tight ends Pettigrew for five and Heller for 10 before the Saints caught a break - CB Jabari Greer tackled WR Nate Burleson well out of bounds, sending cheerleaders scrambling, and drawing an obvious late hit penalty.  But Burleson was flagged for facemask, offsetting the penalty and replaying first down from the Saint 26.

Stafford hit two passes to set up first and goal from the Saint 12, but RB Kevin Smith appeared to injure himself and walked off the field.  Backup RB Maurice Morris carried up the middle twice, setting up what would have been 3rd and 1 from the Saint 3 but Titus Young threw a punch at LB Scott Shanle.  The 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalty made it 3rd and 16 back at the 18.

Stafford's dumpoff underneath to Morris was tackled quickly for a five, and the Lions settled for a field goal.  Playing without hothead DT Ndakumong Suh, the Lions found themselves instead with Titus Young making stupid mistakes.  Lions C Dominic Raiola was shown shouting and pointing at Young on the sideline.

Up 24-10, the Saints got the ball for the first time in the second half with 9:07 left in the third quarter.
A quick first down to Jimmy Graham, who beat S Amari Spivey up to the 35.  A toss left to Sproles with Jermon Bushrod and Robert Meachem out in space escorting up to the Lion 45, a 20-yard gain.

Two plays later on 3rd and 7, Brees caught a low shotgun snap and fired a backpedaling floater across the field to the right which was nearly intercepted by Spivey, with Meachem breaking up a potential pick six.  The Saints punted, pinning the Lions at their own 11.

The Lions escaped when Rashied Davis survived a full-speed impact with Malcolm Jenkins, who was sprinting to make the interception.  Instead, Davis held on for a 22-yard catch near midfield.  Two snaps later, the Lions had another play called back when Nate Burleson pushed off of Tracy Porter and drew offensive pass interference.  The refs had stung the Lions again, while the Saints had yet to have a penalty accepted.

Two plays later on 3rd and 14 back in their own territory, Stafford rolled right and lofted a bomb for Calvin Johnson, who raced behind the Saints defense.  He'd fooled Porter and had Vilma helpless in coverage.  Malcolm Jenkins closed at the last second and had the interception bounce off his chest, his second near pick.

But Jabari Greer would be called for illegal contact in the secondary, clearly a wrong number called by the refs since Greer didn't touch anyone on the play, giving the Lions a fresh set of downs near midfield.  Two plays later, TE Tony Scheffler ran a wide receiver's fly route, juking past Jabari Greer.  Stafford's pass was just above Greer's fingertips, and Scheffler caught the pass in stride and was dropped by Malcolm Jenkins at the Saint 9 yard line, a 36-yard gain.

On the next play, Maurice Morris caught a dump off underneath, cut past Vilma and bounced off Shanle into the end zone.  The Saints' 17-pound lead had shrunk to 7 with :43 left in the third quarter, and Brees statistics were challenged by Stafford's, who now had completed 22 of 26 passes for 290 yards and a score.

Three plays later on third and 7, Brees fired to Graham short right for five yards, and Thomas Morstead boomed a punt from the Saint 24.  After the punt, returner Stefan Login flipped the football at one of the Saints tacklers Ramon Humber, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty moving the Lions back to their own 18.

No worries for Detroit, on the next play Stafford dropped a pass just over Porter for Burleson, who couldn't tiptoe the sideline and fell out of bounds at the Saint 35.  On the next play, DT Aubrayo Franklin split the line and dropped Maurice Morris for a loss.  Stafford fired incomplete on another fly pattern, setting up 3rd and 12 from the Saint 38.  LB Ramon Humber tipped Stafford's quick receiver screen incomplete, and Jason Hanson came on the field to attempt a 55-yard attempt, which quacked wide left.

With excellent field position at their own 45, the Saints completed their re-acquisition of game momentum with the Jimmy Graham show - Brees hit Graham for gains of 3, 16, 14, and 13.  Sproles covered the final six yards by catching an underneath outlet, Brees' perfect pass guiding Sproles to turn and race away from defenders into the end zone, his seventh total touchdown of the season.

On the next drive WR Calvin Johnson, held mostly in check by the Saints during the game and forcing most of Stafford's throws to other receivers, got a first down by beating Greer on a slant for a 13-yard gain.  Former LSU back and waiver claim Keiland Williams cut underneath the Saints' two defensive tackles and picked up 14 yards.

Two plays later the refs bit the Lions again, with Patrick Robinson prone on the turf as Stafford's pass sailed over Burleson's head.  Offensive pass interference made it 2nd and 13 from the Saint 42, and Morris dropped a wide-open screen pass that had blockers waiting for the few Saint defenders on that side of the field.  Just another bad mistake by the Lions.  Stafford's 3rd and long pass was incomplete, and the Lions brought out their punter with 6:40 left in the game, down by 14.

After a first down holding penalty on Colston set the Saints' back, two Ingram rushes got some of it back, Brees fired deep for Meachem into triple coverage, the ball tipped but falling harmlessly to the ground incomplete.  Replay showed that CB Alphonso Smith clearly put a forearm into Meachem's helmet before the ball arrived, but no flag was thrown.  Morstead punted the ball back with 5:01 left in the game.

Stafford took over at his own 36.  Burleson caught a deep out, evaded Jabari Greer and raced down the sideline before being bodyslammed by Malcolm Jenkins at the Saint 30.  But Burleson was flagged yet again for offensive pass inteference, his third of the game.

Two plays later, TE Brandon Pettigrew dropped a quick pass, scuffled and kicked Roman Harper, then when the side judge intervened, Pettigrew two-hand shoved the ref.  Another stupid penalty on the Lions that Detroit up at their 21.

On the next play, 3rd and 25, DE Junior Galette sacked Stafford back at the Detroit 5 by his shoes, but rookie DE Cam Jordan in pursuit fell on Stafford as he was falling down.  Jordan put his forearms into Stafford's helmet, wiping out what would have been 4th and 41 and giving the Lions a first down.

After starting the drive at their own 36, Stafford now had a first down at his 36 five plays later.  While Payton chewed Jordan out on the sidelines, Stafford kept firing. Malcolm Jenkins delivered a tremendous hit on Scheffler to dislodge a pass on 3rd down, setting up 4th and 2.

Rolling right, Stafford fired for Burleson and CB Tracy Porter picked it off.  His frantic return lost seven yards but it was a personal victory after a tough night against the Lions passing attack and double-teaming Calvin Johnson with every possible combination of defensive backs.

Taking over with 2:55 left, Sean Payton wanted to force the Lions to burn all three of their timeouts. Brees handed off to Ingram on first down then bootlegged right and threw to Meachem, the only receiver in the pattern, for a 14-yard gain on 2nd and 10.  Ingram carried again in the time killing strategy, forcing the final timeout from Jim Schwartz.  Ingram ran into the pile again setting up 3rd and 5 at the two minute warning.

On the carry Sproles gained four yards, setting up 4th and short at the Lion 32.  Brees waited until the last minute to hand off, and Ingram was inches short, turning the ball over to the Lions with 1:01 left in the game.

Stafford went back to it, throwing for 12 to Morris, then a drop by Pettigrew.  Stafford went down in the pass rush with the sack credited to Ramon Humber , then Junior Galette dropped Morris on the draw for no gain on the game's final play.

Brees set an NFL record with 16 straight games with 35 pass attempts.

Inactives for the Saints: RB Chris Ivory, WR Adrian Arrington, recently-promoted TE Michael Higgins, recently-signed T Will Robinson, DE Turk McBride (ankle), rookie LB Martez Wilson and rookie CB Johnny Patrick.

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