The Black and Gold are in unchartered waters as they've notched their first ever 8-0 start in the franchse history. Aside from the obvious (no losing season and they can assure themselves a winning season by defeating the hapless Rams in Saint Louis next Sunday), the Saints continue their 3.5 lead over the Atlanta Falcons for the NFC South, are now 2-0 in their division and maintain their one game lead over the Minnesota Vikings, who were off this week, for first in the conference.
Going into the Miami game, the Saints had an impressive streak of having never trailed throughout the season. Since then the team has had to dig itself out of a hole caused by offensive errors and bad tackling against the run by the defense.
The Carolina Panthers' convincing win over the Arizona Cardinals last week showed that they were a better team than their 3-4 record indicated and ended their quarterback speculation with their strong running game and Jake Delhomme's improved playing.
Though the Saints rallied to defeat two teams whose running backs had frustrated their defense, the Panthers proved to be more methodical, keeping the ball on the ground at all costs thus minimizing the potential for a pick-6 from the Saints' wolf-pack secondary.
Eventually the Saints defense improved against Carolina's running attack in the second half, putting the game on Delhomme's shoulders. To his credit, the Panthers qb didn't through a single interception, which he had distributed generously at the start of the season, though it would not be enough after the Panthers fell prey to a critical error at the end of the game.
The Unusual Suspects
The heroes of this game were players that don't generally stand out. Though quarterback Drew Brees, tight end Jeremy Shockey, wide receiver Marques Colston and free safety Darren Sharper did not have awful games, the big plays were made by lower profile personnel and others who have been criticized for their lack of production in the past season.
Wide Receiver Robert Meachem, the man nobody wanted drafted and who has taken a beaten in the blogosphere, came up big today with wideout Lance Moore injured, with five receptions for 98 yards, including a touchdown.
Running Back Reggie Bush Sure he didn't go flying like Superman but he did his job with plays that moved the ball. Bush had seven receptions for 37 yards (including an impressive one handed snag) and two runs for 16 yards.
Running Back Pierre Thomas scrambled for an impressive touchdownand fifty yards and five receptions for 31 yards, including one for 17 yards.
Kicker John Carney Sunday could have been his last day with the organization had he muffed a potential game winning field goal. Instead the vetertan booted in three that kept the Saints in the game and gave the team its first lead on a day when Saints and NFL all-time leading scorer kicker Morten Andersen was honored as an inductee in the Saints' Hall of Fame.
Defensive Tackle Anthony Hargrove forced a fumble and had two fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown.
Defensive End Will Smith sacked Delhomme twice.
Cornerback Tracy Porter forced two fumbles and safety Pierson Prioleau also recovered a fumble.
Strong Safety Roman Harper and linebacker Jonathan Vilma each had 12 tackles on the day.
Did You Notice?
After wide receiver Marques Colston's reception in the end zone was ruled incomplete, the Saints sideline was animated with Brees insisting coach Sean Payton throw the red challenge flag while one of the coaches near Payton was flailing his arms down, insisting it was incomplete and not to risk losing a timeout. Payton hesistated but stood by his qb who did not have the advantage as others watching from above. The ruling on the field was confirmed though the gesticulating was noticeable even from row 30 in the Terrace level.
Another Monkey Off His Back
Payton, who earlier this season coached his first successful game after a bye week, got to snap another unpleasant streak finally defeating the Panthers in the Superdome. Consequently, Delhomme's unbeaten record as a starting quarterback in the dome came to an end.