By Ralph Malbrough
What year is this? What planet am I on?
The reason I’m confused is people keep telling me the Saints just won a road playoff game in Philadelphia after Drew Brees threw two interceptions, the Saints ran for 185 yards and Rob Ryan’s defense completely shut down the No. 1 rushing offense in football. That’s ridiculous because everybody knows that’s not how the Saints win football games with Brees and Sean Payton.
If I hadn’t actually watched the Saints do what they did Saturday night, I’d have hardly believed it was possible.
It was the most enjoyable Saints victory to watch since the 2010 Super Bowl, but was so exhausting and nerve-racking, I joked on Twitter after Shayne Graham’s game-winning kick that I needed a cigarette, a valium, a bar full of booze and a hug.
How unlikely is it for a road team to win when it loses the turnover battle by two or more? Try six wins and 130 losses. If you had told me before the game Brees would throw two first-half interceptions and the Saints would have six points at halftime, I’d have told you starting at 7 Saturday night would be like getting three hour root canal.
Except it wasn’t.
Payton won a playoff game the way 1991 Jim Mora probably dreamed about - Mark Ingram ran for 97 yards, the defense held the Eagles to 256 yards and Graham looked like Morten Andersen with four field goals.
It was old-school power football.
Payton stuck with it as the Saints had complete control of the line of scrimmage. He showed again why he is the best coach in football. Payton during the week kept things loose, talking about switching to green Gatorade, Popeye’chicken, and new tracksuits when discussing the Saints' road woes. Saturday night he channeled his mentor Bill Parcells and hit the Eagles squarely in the mouth over and over.
The Saints ran it 36 times and threw it 30. Payton even had Brees run the quarterback sneak four times, which Payton has openly admitted he hates because he doesn’t like putting Brees at risk. In the playoffs, everything is on the table it seems.
It wasn’t just Payton’s commitment to the run that made his coaching great. It was small and subtle things.
Late in the first quarter, the Eagles no-huddle fast-break offense was gassing the Saints and Payton just called a timeout to let his defense catch their breath. It reminded me of a basketball coach calling a timeout when the opposing team makes an 8-0 scoring run. Timeouts aren’t just for the end of the game or half.
Payton broke the Eagles' momentum and after the timeout, the Saints pushed the Eagles back and Philadelphia missed a 48-yard field goal. Pure and simple, that’s the kind of coaching that changes games. I can probably only think of maybe three other NFL coaches who would think to act that unconventionally.
While we are giving out coaching love, Ryan should take a bow The big guy with the flowing hair had a brilliant plan against one of the most explosive offenses in football.
I thought the Saints could shut down either DeSean Jackson or LeSean McCoy, but not both. Ryan figured out a way to do it and until Keenan Lewis got injured, the Saints defense had complete control of the game.
The loss of Lewis proved one of my favorite theories of football. It’s called the ‘Jenga’ Theory and was created by Dave Dameshek of the NFL Network. Basically, he believes that all NFL teams have certain irreplaceable non-quarterback players and if those players get removed from a team, then just like removing the wrong piece in Jenga, the team collapses.
Lewis most definitely qualifies as irreplaceable to the Saints secondary. The Saints could withstand the loss of Jabari Greer and Kenny Vaccaro but once Lewis was gone the defensive backfield was taking on water like the Titanic.
We will have all week to break down if the Saints can win in Seattle but they desperately need Lewis making the trip to the great northwest. The thought of Rod Sweeting and Corey White starting at cornerback gives me the shakes.
There really is nothing better than watching playoff football the day after the Saints just advanced to the next weekend. Pure bliss. I’ve never enjoyed a Cincinnati Bengals game so much in my entire life.
Now that the Saints have delivered the first road win in team history I’m declaring 2013 a success. The Saints officially are playing with house money. Now it’s only a question of how much more winning they have left in them.
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 https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.