Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
NEW ORLEANS -- In the season where Saints fans have watched the team be led by two different interim coaches, seen Drew Brees melt down completely just when the playoffs came into sight, and been subjected to a defense on pace to be the worst in NFL history, a 41-0 shutout win was the equivalent of an early Christmas miracle.
It really happened. I watched it in person until Tampa's last desperate pass to avoid throwing up a big fat zero on the scoreboard. Sunday was the first real fun I've had as a Saints fan all season. Of course the Saints would turn into a killing machine once there was no hope of going to the playoffs or having a winning season. As a life-long Saints fan how could I expect anything less?
At times Sunday it seemed like the Saints were taking nine months of bounty investigation frustrations on the Buccaneers. For every accusation Roger Goodell made and couldn't prove Tampa got a nice swift punch to the face. Drew Brees bounced back from his worst three game stretch as a Saint and looked like Drew Brees again. He had four touchdown throws and looked patient and relaxed for the first time in a month. It was to me his best game since Green Bay.
We can officially say Joe Morgan is a keeper and the Saints were 100% correct and all of us calling them crazy for sticking with him were wrong. Mark Ingram even rushed for 90 yards, had a score, and looked every bit like the Heisman trophy winner the Saints drafted as they gashed the number one rushing defense in football for 149 yards on 25 carries. All the Saints offense needs to be the best in the NFL is an elite coach who can make great in game adjustments. I sure hope they find one for 2013 as I hear there is a pretty good one suspended or something.
Sunday hopefully was the coming together of the defense. Their steadily improving play has been lost the last month in a storm of Brees interceptions and horrible special teams. They completely shut down Tampa running back Doug Martin and created five turnovers including four interceptions. A Saints secondary who for the last two plus years had hands of stone suddenly were catching balls left and right. Young safeties Isa Abdul-Quddus and Rafael Bush showed at the very least they deserve more playing time the next two games. No denying the defense has made solid progress under Steve Spagnuolo and call me crazy but they're an elite pass rusher from being plenty good enough to get the Saints deep into the playoffs in 2013.
With two games left in 2012 the one thing about this season which sticks out to me and Joe Vitt mentioned it this week is the Saints inability to deal with in game adversity. It's the biggest issue they desperately needed Sean Payton on the sideline to solve. On Sunday everything went picture perfect for the Saints from the opening gun to the final snap. Just a glorious rainbow of laughs, touchdowns, and sunshine. It's all the other games like Kansas City, San Francisco, Atlanta, and New York where adversity hit them and they couldn't get back on their feet.
Standing in a almost empty dome screaming like crazy urging the defense to hold Tampa one last time to preserve the shut out was simple fun so give the Saints credit for still caring and giving us three hours where we could at least forget for a little while how awful this year has been. The most important thing Sunday showed us is the Saints window to win another Super Bowl isn't closed, it's only been put on hiatus. Having Sean Payton return, a solid draft, and Mickey Loomis navigate the salary cap can return the Saints right back to the NFL elite and at this point it's about as much as we can ask for before we close the book on 2012.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/MilneMalbrough or download his podcast at Itunes.