Last week I was beating myself up for skipping out on attending what was perhaps one of the most impressive wins in Saints history. After having gone to Miami, I now have no regrets.
In terms of intensity on the field and emotional anguish for the fans, the only game that compares to it in recent years was the Saints first post-season victory against the Saint Louis Rams.
Sure, less was on the line last Sunday afternoon in Land Shark Stadium when compared to the Saints’ historic win on December 30, 2000. That said, the win put the Saints a game ahead of the previously undefeated Minnesota Vikings for homefield advantage and with their loss against the Arizona Cardinals, three ahead of the New York Giants. The Black and Gold also go into their Monday Night Football showdown against the Atlanta Falcons with a two game edge for the NFC South.
What made this game special was how the team overcame adversity in a hostile environment.
Over the past few seasons, I saw first-hand how the team struggled getting out of hole that they themselves dug by committing errors. Thrice against Chicago. Twice against Washington. And then there were losses to Tampa Bay and Denver on the road last season.
With the exception of the sputtering home loss to the Redskins in 2006, the Saints faced tough teams and even tougher weather. In a lot of ways, the first half of the Miami game reminded me of the trip to Denver on the unseasonably warm day in Invesco Field at Mile High. The Saints found themselves behind 21-3 and though they rallied back, the Saints fell short thanks to two missed field goals and an inability to convert on short yardage.
In Miami the Saints trailed their opposition for the first time all season with the freefall resulting in a 24-3 deficit at one point. Yet, the Saints patiently and confidently got back into the game realizing despite the gulf, there was plenty of time to overtake a team that was dominating the game on both sides of the ball.
Unlike the numerous close ones they lost, the Saints made the plays in the second half. Following the word of the t-shirts they were handed at the start of the season, the Saints "finished" and preserved the streak that matters most: their winning streak.
What I Liked
The Man With the Golden Arm Uses His Legs Instead of running for first downs, Saints quarterback Drew Brees hopped and scurried for two touchdowns. Though he was picked three times (one of which was yanked from the hands of his receiver) and fumbled twice (one recovered by the Saints, the other by the Dolphins), Brees stayed in the game, had the guts to gamble at the end of the first half and passed for almost three hundred yards. Brees isn’t just a passer; he’s a winner.
The Saints’ “Second Line” Marches In Two pick-sixes, the first that started the second half shift to the Saints by safety (and future Hall of Famer) Darren Sharper and cornerback Tracy Porter, which put the Fins up and out the stadium. Strong safety Roman Harper forced a fumble recovered by linebacker Scott Shanle, who has silenced his numerous nay-sayers this season (yo!).
Mr. Second Chance Makes the Most of It Defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove has had a troubled NFL career, having had stormy experiences with his previous two teams and been suspended twice for drug violations. It has also been reported that he hears several voices in his head. Hargrove’s reinstatement in 2009 did not garner the same publicity and interest as the league’s most prominent “returnee”, but his potential led the Saints to give him a shot. The man who was notoriously disruptive with his former teammates has now managed to exclusively be disruptive to opposing offenses. The athletic Hargrove proved his value on Sunday stepping in for an injured Sedrick Ellis, getting the Black and Gold’s two sacks on the day. Expect more from this reformed beast of a player.
Run, Ricky, Run I know he’s no longer with the Saints, a fact that in no way displeases me, though I will admit it was good to see running back Ricky Williams remains a productive player a decade after then-Saints coach Mike Ditka gave the farm for him in the NFL draft. While the Williams for a gazillion draft picks was the most unbalanced trade in the history of the organization, if not the NFL. That said the trade was not the worst for the franchise, since the Saints actually got something out of it on the way in and out (unlike Jonathan Sullivan). Besides, Bill Kuharich would have just blown the traded picks on a bag of magic beans or shares in Eastern Airlines.
Though he was a drama queen during his time with the Saints, even when he wasn’t wearing a large frilly dress, Williams is perhaps the poster boy for the addictive power and damaging effects of marijuana, a drug society largely considers harmless.
Shockey Shocks ‘Em The other troubled soul that the character-obsessed front office successfully pursued is showing why he was worth the effort. Tight end Jeremy Shockey is having a great season, remaining healthy, being productive and largely keeping cool- with a little bull-riding dancing aside from the previous game. Shockey’s 66 yard reception was equally as amusing as it was impressive. If only there was a microphone in his helmet to document the jawing he was doing while running down field with the ball.
Roby Breaks Out The cut and rehired kick returner almost ran one back, getting 87 yards.
The Sight of Culpepper Miami Jerseys Self-explanatory.
Black and Gold Faithful Show One of the largest gatherings of Saints fans I’ve seen outside of Louisiana or Atlanta. The team responded at the end, returning the love by running and slapping hands along the visitor along side of the field.
What I Didn’t Like
Reggie, Reggie, Reggie I know he is on the cover of Sports Illustrated through there are about 6 other players more deserving of such recognition- including the punter. Bush has been a bust on punt returns this season and should be shifted to kick return duty where he would have the open space he needs and the running start that makes it harder for him to dance around. On a good note, the Sean Payton Trick-a-dickory play finally worked.
Reggie, Reggie, Reggie How many passes did he drop?
The Dracula Factor The Dolphins 12th Man isn’t the fans, it’s the sun. The bane of plutocrat C. Montgomery Burns did a fine job scorching a dome-centric team, whose bench was located in the sun’s rays while the Dolphins remained cool in the shade. It was not a coincidence that as the sun set, the Saints played better. See below for more on this.
Black Uniforms While walking to the stadium in the sweltering heat, I wondered if the Saints would be wearing their black jerseys today, hoping they wouldn’t. I was not pleased. The Saints need to employ a gold alternate jersey for days like this past Sunday, though this shouldn’t be an issue the remainder of the season.
Fins to the Left, Fins to the Right Dare I say I found something more annoying than BEAR DOWN after ever Chicago score and a pirate ship firing a canon after every Buccaneer first-down. It’s not that I dislike Jimmy Buffet; though I’m not a “parrothead”, I do like his music However, repeating “fins to the left, fins to the right” over and over and over and over after every score (not the full song but those lines!) ought to be against the law. Opposing defenses have extra incentive to shut down the Miami offense.
Celebrity Revelry With Los Angeles lacking a team and celebrities investing in the Miami franchise, it seems the Dolphins are trying to be. Nothing communicates grid iron toughness than superfluous footage and live shots of American Idol winners, Fergie, Mr. J-Lo and Lance Bass. All that was missing was Joan Rivers doing the play by play. The NFL is not the NBA; people attend football games to watch what happens on the field, not the rantings of celebrities on the sidelines.
Land Shark Stadium: $25 Parking, only four entrances to the nosebleeds, stands too far from the field and a stadium located in the middle of nowhere with no mass transit option. At least the parking areas are designed well for tailgating.
Interesting Facts Saints’ FIRST EVER win in Miami. Drew Brees’s first EVER win against Miami. At 6-0, Saints are having their best start since 1991.