Twenty and one-half months.
Six hundred twenty-four days.
One thousand, one hundred fifty-eight game minutes.
When Robert Meachem watched the ball come in over his left shoulder, just out of reach of an outstretched Jerraud Powers, that was the gulf closed upon crossing the goal line at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
That’s the amount of time that had passed between his most recent touchdown reception as a Saint before notching a score against Arizona with 5:30 to play in the opening quarter.
And it was foreshadowed a night earlier in a meeting between quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton, the man who designs the offense and calls the plays.
“There was obviously a couple of shot plays to Meachem in the plan,” Brees said. “It’s, hey Meachem, how long has it been since you last caught a touchdown for us. We’ve got to break the seal and get you into the end zone. Sure enough, it happens on the first drive so it was some good foreshadowing. I could see the smile on his face.”
What likely felt good to the receiver was the vindication he must have felt in showing San Diego that the game had not passed him by.
After signing a lucrative four-year contract with the Charges in 2012, Meachem was barely used and reports from the sunny California city were of a player who had lost a step.
“Not at all,” Payton said of Meachem’s speed being questionable.
In five seasons with New Orleans, Meachem amassed 2,269 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns. In one season in San Diego, he caught only 14 passes for 207 yards. His only two touchdowns came against the Saints in an Oct. 7 Sunday night football game.
He didn’t catch a pass in San Diego’s final six games of 2012. In fact, he was only targeted one time that stretch, a pass that didn’t count because there was a penalty. He was on the field for only 29 plays in the final six weeks.
In just the past two weeks in New Orleans, Meachem has been targeted three times, making two catches and spending 46 plays on the field. He doesn’t appear to have missed a beat in the Saints’ offense.
“I said earlier, when we were able to sign Robert, he is running well and we felt like we have a pretty good handle on the things he does well and it is good to have him back,” Payton said.
So, how did his first score happen? By using one of their known strengths as an advantage against an aggressive Cardinals defense.
Darren Sproles was lined up wide right, with Meachem and Jimmy Graham lined up between him and right tackle Zach Strief. At the snap, Sproles faked to the inside for a screen pass and Arizona defenders Tyrann Mathieu, Karlos Dansby and Powers all bit.
Powers tried to recover, but it was too late as Meachem and Graham both were sprinting down the field side by side. Brees lofted the pass over Powers’ outstretched arms and into Meachem’s hands.
Once in the end zone, the receiver flipped the ball into the stands, something he did consistently in his previous stint with the Saints.
“It felt so good to score,” Meachem said. “I was kind of mad at myself because I had a ritual when I was here. I used to toss the ball underhand to the fans. I really should have kept that ball. That ball meant a lot to me, but some fan got it.”
With Brees and Payton involved, Meachem will have more touchdown balls to keep.