Observations from the Cheap Seats
By Tony Twillie
The New Orleans Saints beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Christmas Eve
Maybe it was that nothing to lose feel… Or maybe it was that the opponents saw one door close on them, and panicked in the face of another closing rapidly. Maybe it was simply the spirit of the season. But on this warm Christmas Eve, 3 days after the onset of winter, the temperature was turned up both outside and inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Dome was less crowded than normal, but the fans that showed up were treated to one of the more complete games the Saints have put together this season in their 31-24 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Who Dats are normally treated to one or the other – an offensive outpouring or a solid defensive showing. This week they got a bit of both. The 31 points the Saints scored is reminiscent of their early season numbers, while the 24 points allowed and 349 yards of offense allowed. This is the formula for success in the NFL, and would be thus for the New Orleans Saints should they embark on another path towards greatness. Keep opponents in the 350 total yard area and keep them in the 21-24 points per game allowed region. Defensively, this would spell victory for a good few NFL teams, but for the Saints, who normally tend to average around 425-450 yards of offense per game and nearly 30 points per game, this would be playoff caliber production.
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If one were to look for 2 keys to the Saints victory, they’d be very simple to find in this game. The first would be turnovers. While we’ve been generous to Jameis Winston in his fledgling career – 2 of his 14 career wins (including his first) came against the Saints – he was generous to the Saints yesterday in poorly telegraphing 2 passes and allowing free safety Jairus Byrd to get his first and second interceptions of this season (which also happened to be his 2nd and 3rd as a Saint). Being +2 in turnover margin is more times than not by itself a recipe for success.
But our second key was also major – the ground game. That’s 2 things that Saints fans can rarely attest to being keys to victory. The Saints rushed for 123 yards – not a huge day by any standards, but it’s the quality and timeliness of those rushes that make all the difference. The Saints won the line of scrimmage and ran at will for the most part on Saturday. Beyond that they got tough yards and yards when necessary. They ran obvious times and dared Tampa Bay to stop them. That they accomplished that successfully points to solid line play and running backs moving with authority.
The telltale sign of the offensive efficiency was probably the 2nd third quarter TD and 2-point conversion. Travaris Cadet has been a bit player all season, really not amounting to much in the offense. Yet there he was, grabbing an 11-yard touchdown pass across the middle. And then the conversion run. I don’t know the last time the Saints attempted a conversion RUN much less were successful in completing it. But Payton drew up the draw play well. The line and receivers opened up a hole big enough to drive 3 toy-filled sleighs through. This was really the story of our game. Good running when we needed it.
Observations are few this week as the observation perch is closing for the year:
- Jairus Byrd can never EVER catch back up to the money he stole from the Saints over the first and second seasons here. But about ¼ of the way into this year his production shot up like a rocket. He’s still not what we thought we were picking up. He’s no ball hawking, play busting centerfielder, a la Darren Sharper. But he has developed into a pretty sure tackler who seems to have a head for the ball. There’s a place for that in every lineup.
- The one area that the Saints have had much issue with throughout the season wasn’t an issue this week – injuries. Saints players have been dropping like Santa down the chimney, but there weren’t any major injuries in yesterday’s game. Meanwhile, the Bucs had a couple of stoppages for injured players, including two for the same player.
- The Saints had 417 total yards. Brees had 299 passing yards. But those yards could have been so much more… We had a bad case of the drops. Brandin (I Need the Ball) Cooks had a couple of those drops, and Coby Fleener had one. Those could account for a solid 30-40 more yards easily.
All things considered, the Black and Gold put on a fine Christmas showing. They played their most complete and balanced game since the win against Seattle. It was once again an encouraging sign for the future. Considering they knew they were playing for nothing, the energy and execution being at this high level – when it has obviously not been in years past – says much about the makeup of this team.
Next: Like it or not, Byrd is one of Saints' best defenders
They have laid some eggs this season (Detroit and the first Tampa game). Those laid eggs are the difference in them looking to be in the playoffs and playing spoiler. But such is the nature of the maturation process of young players. If this game indicates a maturation, then we are headed in the right direction. Let’s hope we close out the 2016 campaign with a similar effort against our hated rival Falcons – let them know that they might have played well enough to win the division this season when everyone else was kind of down, but we’re ready to take back the division next season.