11 November 2013

The 'Oh Shit' Moment

Now that is the Sean Payton offense we've been waiting for all year: the wicked, all-consuming torrent of catastrophic might.

Momentous, unyielding, and overwhelming, the Saints' performance on Sunday night was a reminder that at any given moment with Payton and Brees at the helm, the Saints are quite capable of delivering the most thunderous of beatdowns.

Lest we forget.

courtesy of espn.com

For parts of the season, the Saints' offense has sputtered. The offensive line has looked lost at times. The run game has disappeared for stretches. Sean Payton has confounded us with what appeared to be a crisis of identity.

On Sunday night, that all faded away in the afterglow of another primetime victory.

With Payton returning in 2013, and the otherwordly dominance of the 2011 offense still far from a distant memory, we hoped Payton would return the team to the peak it reached sometime late in 2011.

Though the Saints' offense played well through their first eight games this year, it wasn't what it had been at its best. Not even close, really.

The growing anxiety was that, perhaps, the very best of the Payton/Brees offense was in the rearview mirror and that, while still excellent, it wouldn't fully regain its definitive, crushing power of past days.

On Sunday, though, the Saints let everyone know the party ain't over just quite yet.

The Saints played a historic game, setting an NFL record with forty first downs. Even better they accomplished that feat on eighty plays, a first down every other play--a mark of unrivaled efficiency. Even more, the Saints produced the second-highest, non-overtime yardage total in the regular season since the merger (1970).

Of all the epic and vicious and enjoyable and defining and perception-shifting and hegemonic offensive performances the Saints have authored under Payton, this one was the all-around best.

Take a look:

As illustrated, these displays of offensive dominance had arrived with regularity by the second half of 2011. The Saints, then, had morphed into something approaching unstoppable.

A rule-making, runaway locomotive.

Sunday night's performance against Dallas wasn't just transcendent in the context of that established greatness, it also reintroduced the notion that it's not too late to get it back.

It reminded us that teams aren't defined by the first half of a season. It injected a dose of supreme confidence. It laid the groundwork of promise. It rattled the cages of neurotic Saints' fans who, sometime around 6:00 P.M. yesterday, had ceded the NFC South to the Panthers.

And finally, it forced the NFL to crane its collective neck and take notice.

These type of moments, in each of the Saints' best seasons of 2006, 2009, and 2011, have arrived with a definitive, primetime flair and announced the Saints as legitimate title contenders.

In 2006, it was a 42-17 thrashing of Dallas in which Sean Payton put his mentor out to pasture. In 2009, it was a 38-17 dismantling of the Patriots with Brees submitting perhaps the greatest single-game passing performance in NFL history. In 2011 it was a post-Christmas flogging of a footstool Falcons' team that fancied themselves upstarts, in which Brees broke the NFL single-season record for passing yards.

These are what I've referred to as "oh shit" moments in the past--as in, "oh shit, watch out, here come the Saints."

On Sunday night, we were graciously treated to the Saints' 2013 "oh shit" moment.

And it was glorious.

There was Marques Colston tossing aside reports of his demise. There was Mark Ingram running with anger and abandon. There was Pierre Thomas continuing to nudge himself into "Deuce" territory. There was Kenny Stills making yet another big play, downfield in traffic, for a touchdown. There was Brees painting another stunning masterpiece. There was the offensive line doing what we'd all hoped they'd eventually do. There was the defense again surrendering fewer than twenty points in the Dome. There was Sean Payton and Rob Ryan tormenting their former employer.

And on the other sideline there was a bewildered, dazed opponent waving the white flag.

Sunday was the game we've been waiting for since Payton was railroaded and suspended in early 2012.

May the dam now be broken.

The sobering bit of news from Sunday is the health of the Saints' secondary. Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins again sat out due to lingering knee injuries. Kenny Vaccaro departed after what appeared to be his
second concussion in three weeks.

Considering Vaccaro's style of play, this isn't the greatest of developments. If Vaccaro indeed suffered another concussion, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Saints shut him down for a few weeks. Multiple concussions in a condensed timeframe is, what I believe concussion experts tout as, a worse-case scenario.

Especially considering Vaccaro's status as a prized rookie, I would expect the Saints to err on the side of caution here. If Vaccaro's out, the Saints might be without their top three safeties against the Niners.

On the other hand, Glenn Foster and Corey White have continued to emerge as viable pieces for the defense. White especially looked impressive on Sunday night. His contributions seem all the more important considering the injuries in the secondary, and his previous experience at safety might pay dividends as the season progresses.

Foster's development after an excellent preseason, combined with Tyrunn Walker's return to health, means the Saints' defensive line should be loaded for the second half of the season. That will go a long way in helping the Saints deal with the run-oriented offenses in San Francisco, Seattle, Carolina, and St. Louis.

With seven games to go, securing homefield advantage looms as the likely deciding factor in the NFC this season. Accomplishing that (homefield advantage) means the Saints may indeed need to run the slate.

Last week, that seemed much less possible than it does this morning. Today, it's officially in play.

Now here comes San Francisco, Atlanta, Seattle, Carolina, St. Louis, Carolina, and Tampa Bay. All conference games. Three home and four away.

First up comes the hated Niners, they the longtime shatterer of Saints' dreams. Exorcising the demons associated with the Harbaugh-led Niners is the first order of business on the way to homefield advantage.

It's not going to be easy, but Sean Payton has a bit of unfinished business after his bitter loss to the Niners in January of 2012.

If Payton aims to return better than he ever was, then beating San Francisco on Sunday is of the utmost importance.

Fly on, reckoning.

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