Pierre Thomas isn’t exactly a secret weapon, and New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton insisted Sunday that he wasn’t saving Thomas during the season to keep him fresh for a playoff run. It sure felt like someone had removed the restrictor plate from Thomas’ engine Saturday night, though, when the fifth-year tailback made his biggest impact of the season in a 45-28 victory over the Detroit Lions in an NFC wild-card playoff game.
Six days after setting a single-game franchise record with 617 yards, the Saints set an NFL postseason record with 626 yards. Brees, who set the NFL’s single-season passing record with 5,476 yards, kept up his torrid pace by scorching the Detroit Lions for 466 (second most in playoff history) and three touchdowns. And Morstead never punted. Can they keep it going against the 49ers?
First a little history. In the first game against the Saints this season, Johnson was limited to six receptions for 69 yards and no touchdowns. I wrote that the stats were deceptive based on two plays, and his stat line could have just as easily been eight catches, 154 yards and a score. NFL Network analyst Joe Theismann disagreed with my assessment, arguing the Saints would shut Johnson down again. Joe was wrong.
New Orleans (14-3) has not lost since that Oct. 30 game in St. Louis. Brees has never lost in five career games against the 49ers. He set up a sixth meeting by throwing for 466 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday night’s 45-28
wild-card win over the visiting Detroit Lions. Anticipating that result, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Friday that Brees “is playing as well or better than anybody who has ever played the game.”
This and that: The “weak” spot of the Niners defense is the secondary, which ranked 16th in net passing yards. But that was because no one could run on them. Opposing quarterbacks only managed a 73.6 passer rating, fifth lowest in the league. … Donte Whitner will have his hands full with Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. The Niners could try beating Graham up as he comes off the line, but not if Sean Payton consistently flanks him. … This game feels like the 1999 NFC Championship Game, which featured the “Greatest Show on Turf” versus the Tony Dungy “Tampa 2″ Bucs. What a great matchup and game that was.
Kicking off with thoughts on the NFL playoffs: In the current NFL, an elite offense has the advantage over an elite defense. That’s the main reason New Orleans is an early 3-point favorite at San Francisco in their NFC divisional playoff showdown. The Saints are an unstoppable offensive machine at home (9-0 outright and against the Las Vegas point spread; averaging 41.6 points per game) and proved in Saturday’s 45-28 wild-card victory over Detroit that they have the running game to win on the road on any surface and in any weather.