What made the Saints show almost perfect was that Sean Payton and his offensive braintrust finally dedicated themselves to running the ball, and in the process produced the greatest single-game offensive showing in 31 years. It was truly a performance for the ages. The Saints offense produced more total yards (625) than any other team since 1982. They broke the first downs record of 39 for a regulation game set in 1988. The Saints ran 83 plays and held the ball for nearly 40 minutes.
Most significant was the revived running game and the rediscovery of Marc Ingram. The former first-round pick has spent most of his three seasons as the Whipping Boy for Who Dat Nation. Sunday night Ingram rushed for a career high of 145 yards in only 14 carries, and more importantly gave himself a boost of confidence that will be critical over the schedule minefield to come. Serving as Sundance to Ingram’s Butch, always-reliable Pierre Thomas collected 87 yards of his own on 17 carries.
The suddenly adept running game made Drew Brees’ passing game even more ridiculously effective. Brees sliced and diced the depleted Cowboys defense, completing 34 of 41 passes for 392 yards and four touchdowns. The good news here is that Jimmy Graham had a quiet but effective five catches for 99 yards while Brees reintroduced himself to his other receivers. It was great to see Marques Colston have his best game of the season with seven catches for 107 yards and the Saints’ first touchdown. Thomas and Darren Sproles also gathered in seven receptions each, while Rookie Kenny Stills continued to make big plays, including a 52-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Wow!
But the guy in the locker room with the biggest Cheshire Cat grin was Professor Longhair, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan whom Jerry Jones tossed out last season. Ryan’s defense harassed QB Tony Romo all night into only 10 completions in 24 passes. It helped that the Saints’ secondary also was nearly perfect at shutting down Romo’s top receiver, Dez Bryant, who caught one harmless pass. The one guy I felt sorry for was Monte Kiffin, who replaced Ryan as Cowboys defensive guru.
Unlike his jerk son, Monte is an affable guy with a remarkable sense of humor and a library of stories that makes him a hit at speaking engagements. Monte was Saints defensive guru in 1995, and I was with him on a Saints caravan. I recall Monte talking about his days as a coach at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers in their heyday were among the first football factories to be accused of degrading academics as a necessary evil for football players. But Nebraska had a great academic reputation, Monte told the crowd. Why else would they show the big “N” on their helmets, which everybody in Nebraska knew stood for “Knowledge!”
What the Saints run/pass offense did to Kiffin’s defense was no joke. But if the home team can bottle the formula, it just might be the perfect prescription to cure a one-dimensional attack. That will be the only thing that gives the Saints a chance to win another second Super Bowl.