Drew Brees likely put Saints fans through a roller-coaster of emotions Sunday.
He threw an interception that led to a Tampa Bay touchdown and then he threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham.
He very nearly threw other interceptions and then he did throw one, a turnover which Bucs linebacker Mason Foster returned 85 yards for a touchdown.
Then he followed that up with a coolly called and calmly directed one-minute drive that ended with New Orleans’ game-winning field goal.
But what must be maddening to Brees is his inconsistency this season so far in the passing game. While he has put up numbers, he hasn’t been as pinpoint accurate as we’re all used to seeing.
He’s under-throwing receivers and not seeing defenders. He’s not in the rhythm that made him nearly unstoppable since coming to New Orleans.
And yet, the Saints are 2-0, having won two games with key offensive series and big defensive plays. It hasn't been all about Brees this season. It's about the defense and it's about the running game, or lack thereof.
Two Brees interceptions, a touchdown to Jimmy Graham, a terrible goal-line sequence and a big play from a young linebacker give a brief glimpse into Sunday’s four-and-a-half hour marathon.
Here’s our look back at what happened on each.
New Orleans ball, First-and-10 at the Saints’ 23, 8:11 to go in first quarter:
Marques Colston motions across, setting Jimmy Graham in motion the opposite way. Pierre Thomas is the lone back. Benjamin Watson is lined up at tight end by Graham on the right side of the line with Lance Moore split out on the numbers. Drew Brees sends Moore in motion right to left.
In doing this, Brees has Colston in coverage with cornerback Leonard Johnson and Moore in what would appear to be in a mismatch with Bucs linebacker Dekoda Watson.
As the ball is snapped, Watson shifts into a look where he briefly shows that he’s going to cover Thomas in the left flat. He reads Brees’ eyes as they barely move from Thomas to Moore, who is between the hashmarks and the numbers.
Brees thinks he has Moore open behind Watson and in front of Johnson. He doesn’t put enough loft on the ball to put it over Watson’s 6-foot-2 frame.
It’s as much a great play by Watson as it is a bad read and throw by Brees.
New Orleans ball, Third-and-seven at the Bucs’ 22, 13:01 to go in the fourth quarter:
Before we even talk about this play, what happened on the play before must be discussed. Foster was lucky to have a chance at an interception. His teammate Adrian Clayborn nearly did the deed on second down. Clayborn read the weak play-action to fullback Jed Collins and got his big paw up to knock the pass down.
Brees had a play set up and saw something in the defense, calling an audible at the line. But the play clock was too low and he called timeout. This is just one example of how the Saints haven’t been totally crisp on offense this season.
Robert Meachem lined up outside the numbers on the right with Graham between the receiver and the end of the line. Benjamin Watson and Moore mirrored Meachem and Graham on the far sideline. Pierre Thomas was Brees’ running back on the play, releasing through the center of the line where pressure ended up coming unabated from David, the linebacker.
Simple miscommunication changed the game. Graham sat down in his route about seven yards from the line scrimmage before darting upfield towards the goalpost. It appears Brees thought Graham would instead hitch, sitting the route down just beyond the first-down marker.
That’s where Foster was after faking a blitz and that’s where the linebacker had the ball appear right in front of him. TV replays showed Brees talking with Graham on the sideline after the return.
It was as bad a back-to-back plays as Brees has had in awhile.
Brees to Graham TD
New Orleans ball, First-and-10 at the Saints’ 44, 2:46 to go in the first quarter:
The Saints break the huddle, sending receiver Kenny Stills wide left and Marques Colston wide right. Graham is lined up at tight end to the left. But Brees sees something in the defense and calls an audible from under center at the line of scrimmage.
Whatever Brees did, the Bucs had no idea what to do. As he switched the play, both Tampa linebackers – Foster and Lavonte David – jumped and waved their arms. New Orleans had the advantage immediately.
Graham released down the seam while Stills ran a short out. Colston ran an out-and-up on the far side.
Tampa’s defense didn’t cover Graham down the middle as Watson and safety Mark Barron went elsewhere. The result was a 56-yard touchdown that gave New Orleans a 10-7 lead.
It was vintage Brees, recognizing a deficiency in the defensive alignment and knowing exactly how to exploit it.
The goal-line debacle
There’s no reason the Saints shouldn’t have been able to punch one of these four plays into the end zone.
New Orleans ball, First-and-goal at the Bucs’ 1, 1:23 to play in the second quarter:
Nothing the Saints could do on this one. Tampa Bay had the play perfectly covered. Brees looked first to Graham on a quick release to the back of the end zone but he was double covered by Darrelle Revis and Watson. He then looked for Collins, but he, too, was covered.
New Orleans ball, Second-and-goal at the Bucs’ 1, 1:17 to play in the second quarter:
The Saints come out in their extra offensive lineman set, Bryce Harris the tackle eligible on the right side of the line. Watson was split wide right and Graham wide left.
Graham motioned out left before trying to seal block inside. But he couldn’t seal as many Bucs as he saw. David, the Bucs linebacker, read the play and Graham left the defensive back he was on, Dashon Goldson, to block him. Goldson, however, read the play as well and Ingram was stood straight up before being driven backward.
Ingram either has to run over Goldson, which a power back should do, or sprint to the edge. The running back danced for a millisecond, enough for Goldson to square up and stop the play.
New Orleans ball, Third-and-goal at the Bucs’ 2, 1:12 to play in the second quarter:
This time the Saints motioned Graham back to his right. The play went away from Graham, who was next to Stills and Moore. Only Colston was on the left.
But the play was doomed right away thanks to poor blocking by the offensive line. Center Brian de la Puente was beaten off the ball by Tampa defensive tackle Gary Gibson. Left tackle Charles Brown allowed Clayborn, the Bucs defensive end, to “set the edge” and send Thomas back inside.
Even so, if de la Puente blocks Gibson, we’re not talking about this goal-line series. Both Colston and left guard Ben Grubbs had great downfield blocks that would have allowed Thomas to get into the end zone.
New Orleans ball, Fourth-and-goal at the Bucs’ 1, :20 to play in the second quarter:
After an offside penalty put the Saints deliciously close to the goal line, putting the ball at the 1-yard line, Sean Payton decided to go for it on fourth down. Oh, and the Bucs had only 10 players on the field after running players on and off the field in confusion.
New Orleans went with its jumbo package and the blocking was good enough to score. But Ingram not only went in without the best leverage and was stood up by Tampa’s Foster, the middle linebacker, he was unable to cut on one step and quickly bounce through the little hole that was formed.
Collins’ block on David could have been better, but it could have been worse and at the end of the day, he did enough on his defender to give Ingram a hole.
Payton took the blame after the game but suffice it to say, while the calls might not have been the best, if executed, they would have succeeded.
Junior’s big play
Tampa Bay’s ball, Third-and-six at the Saints’ 32, 1:56 to play in the fourth quarter:
Much of the talk in the locker room post-game on Sunday was about how young players had to learn that the game is never over. With just 12 players left from the ’09 Super Bowl team and more than 20 players in their first or second year with the Saints, there was question as to how they would respond. Hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end Junior Galette showed exactly how they’d respond.
With the Saints out of timeouts, all Tampa Bay needed was a first down to ice the game. They came out in their heavy package with seven players on the line and fullback Erik Lorig in front of running back Doug Martin. The strong side of the line was on the left.
Quarterback Josh Freeman took the snap and for a split second acted like he’d toss to Martin going to the strong side. But then he reversed, pitching the ball to Martin heading to the right.
Galette, after initially reading the play as him being on the backside, quickly and athletically changed course, turning Martin back inside to oncoming defensive players. Galette and Martin converged with New Orleans’ Akiem Hicks and the Saints player funneled the running back into nose tackle John Jenkins, who stopped the play three yards short of the first down.
The play was an example of three players reading their keys and not being fooled in a critical time.
There’s a reason right tackle Zach Strief said what he’d remember from Sunday’s game wasn’t that Brees and Colston and Graham and Sproles combined for a game-winning drive. Instead, Strief said he’d remember Galette, a fourth-year player who hasn’t been an every down player until this year.