NEW ORLEANS — Sometime between diving over the goal line and heading back to the sideline early in the fourth quarter after dashing in from seven yards out, Drew Brees entertained the thought of dunking the football over the goal post.
“I did,” the Saints quarterback said. “I did. Very upset that I did not do that for Jimmy (Graham). Jimmy would have been so proud. It doesn’t happen all that often.”
If that’s Brees’ biggest regret after a Saints game, something must have gone right.
Indeed it did.
In the most complete game the Saints have played this season, New Orleans cruised past Arizona 31-7, improving to 3-0 for the first time since 2009 and for just seventh time in franchise history.
“We won the first two weeks in nail-biter situations,” Brees said. “We talked all week about finishing. Today, we were successful in that regard as we outscored our opponent 14-0 in the fourth quarter. We need to continue to find ways to win.”
Winning Sunday consisted of a complementary game in which the offense piled up a season-high 423 yards while keeping Arizona (1-2) to 247. The defense forced eight consecutive punts before ending the game with back-to-back interceptions.
|Cameron Jordan #94 of the New Orleans Saints reacts to a sack against the Arizona Cardinals during a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 22, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)|
In fact, Sunday felt much more about the defense than the offense breaking out of a two-game funk.
A front of Cameron Jordan, Akiem Hicks, Tyrunn Walker, Glenn Foster and Junior Galette was either collapsing the pocket of Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer or sacking him. New Orleans finished with four sacks and nine total quarterback hits. Arizona converted only 5 of 13 third downs.
After giving up 80 yards on the opening 11 plays of the game, New Orleans’ defense allowed just 167 more yards the rest of the game.
“There are two very good pass rushers that people don’t know a whole lot about,” said Palmer, who finished 18 of 35 for 187 yards, two interceptions and a 43.4 rating. “You hear a lot about Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma, but Cameron Jordan is really good and he showed that today. Junior Galette is really good. They are physical guys and they stop the run and rush the passer.”
New Orleans rushed the ball only four times in the first half and still finished with 104 yards on the ground. The ball was in Brees’ hands, however, to move the offense and he delivered, going 29 of 46 for 342 yards, three touchdowns and an interceptions.
After the teams traded 80-yard scoring drives to open the game, New Orleans’ defense settled in and the offense began its work, albeit after each team traded three punts each.
On the Saints’ fifth drive of the game, Brees threw seven straight passes, the final one to tight end Jimmy Graham on a back-shoulder throw for a 16-yard touchdown.
“It was something that we had coming out of the huddle,” said Graham, who finished with two scoring catches and a game-high 134 receiving yards. “It’s a look that (Brees) wants and he alerts me in the huddle. It’s just run, jump and get it.”
New Orleans appeared to be driving for a two-touchdown lead to open the third quarter when native son Tyrann Mathieu made his biggest play of the day, intercepting Brees in the end zone.
No matter as the Saints’ defense forced its sixth-consecutive punt of the day. Eight plays later, Garrett Hartley hit his seventh field goal of the season, a 31-yarder that put the Saints up 17-7 late in the third quarter.
That’s when Brees had a chance to impress Graham, rushing for the seven-yard touchdown that gave the Saints a 24-7 lead and all but put the game out of reach.
Palmer was intercepted on Arizona’s next series by rookie Kenny Vaccaro and Brees polished off the Cardinals with a seven-yard strike to Graham.