Ralph Malbrough / Contributing writer
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of how the Saints climbed to 4-5 and can see the light from 0-4 abyss the 2012 season started from, I’d like to take a moment to revel in them defeating the team Saints fans hate more than any other. There is no team Saints fans dislike more and want to beat more than the Atlanta Falcons and with Sunday’s 31-27 win, since Drew Brees arrived in 2006, the Saints are 11-2 against the team we direct our most negative thoughts towards.
They only thing better than 11-2 against Atlanta is the fact the Saints have won a Super Bowl and Aaron Brooks still has more playoff wins than Matt Ryan. Both New Orleans and Atlanta are currently in the middle of the best years either of their franchises has ever seen and the SAINTS FLAT OUT OWN THE FALCONS. The Saints managed to defeat Atlanta with an interim coach and ruin the best start in Falcon history. You can’t ask for a better Sunday afternoon and feel free to point at any Atlanta fan wearing a Michael Vick jersey and laugh.
The Saints won by continuing to focus on running the football and having a defense that has done a couple of good things the last two weeks.
Let’s start with the offense. Oh look it’s Chris Ivory! He’s still on the team and when the Saints decided to give him carries he looked well…awesome. His 56 yard touchdown run ignited the team and the Superdome and helped the Saints jump right back in a game they trailed 10-0.
Joe Vitt wasn’t kidding when he said he wanted to get the running backs more involved. Why did it take so long to get Ivory on the field? Who knows but if the last two weeks are any indication we can expect the Saints to have a very smash mouth quality to them.
The running game wasn’t just Ivory either. Mark Ingram built on a nice game against Philadelphia with 16 carries and 67 yards Sunday. He looks faster then at any time in the past two years. Maybe his knee injury was more serious then Saints let on? The Saints do tend to lie about injuries. If the Saints are going to run for between 125-150 yards a week like the past two games, the offense gets closer and closer to 2011 dominance.
Drew Brees had all kinds of time the entire day and if not for couple of ill timed drops by Jimmy Graham and Devery Henderson the Saints could have scored more than 31. Give Graham credit for having a big game and bouncing back from his awful drop to catch a huge throw that set up the Saints final field goal.
I said two weeks ago for the Saints to win games, the defense doesn’t need to even be good, they just need to not be the WORST DEFENSE IN NFL HISTORY. To do that they just need to do at least one thing well every week.
Last week against Philly they sacked Michael Vick seven times and created two turnovers in the red zone. This week they held Atlanta to 46 yards rushing on 18 attempts and they were great again in the red zone. The defense is showing signs of life, and before he got injured, rookie Corey White proved he’s starting to figure out how to be a solid NFL defensive back. For this defense, that’s significant progress.
Jabari Greer saved the season with his fourth down pass breakup late, but just as big was the defense holding Atlanta to a field goal after Drew Brees threw an interception on the Saints first play on offense. It kept the Falcons from jumping on top 14-0. It didn’t single handedly turn the tide but it definitely kept the crowd in the game.
If the defense can play like they have the past two weeks, the Saints can beat anybody. They’ll need it because the Saints schedule is about to get brutal. The next three games are a trip to Oakland, home against San Francisco, and a trip to Atlanta on a short week. If the Saints are going to make a run at a playoff spot they simply must defeat a Raider team who just got 55 points dropped on them.
I always say I have the right to change my mind and sometimes I do it in the middle of a column. I said this Saints team was a seven-win team max. Go to Oakland, get a little better on defense, and come home 5-5 and I’ll re-evaluate.
The sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC looks like it will be a 9 win team. Can the Saints get to 9 wins? I don’t think so but a month ago I’d have told you me learning to speak Chinese was more likely then Saints winning nine games in 2012. After winning four of five, including a fourth straight win against the Falcons, it’s still not likely but not impossible. The Saints may be playing meaningful games in December, and Atlanta flew home wondering if they’ll ever beat the Saints when it counts. After 0-4 I’ll take it.
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.