Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
If I don't live to be 100 I'm blaming games like Sunday's for shorting my life. The Saints overcame defensive meltdowns to end each half and no running game to take control of the NFC South. Oh and Atlanta coach Mike Smith coaching the game like he was in a 45-42 shootout in the Big 12 helped too.
The Saints showed in Atlanta what the best-case scenario is for them to win on the road the rest of 2011. They need good offensive line play to keep Drew Brees clean. DONE. They need the defense to do two of the three following things: play good red zone defense, be good on third downs, and make stops when it matters most.
Against Atlanta they held the Falcons to three field goals in the red zone, limited them to 5-16 on third down and had the defensive stand of the season. They aren't going to be elite and they probably won't create many turnovers like 2009 but Sunday they were plenty good enough. They did nearly flush it all down the drain by letting Harry Douglas run uncovered in the middle of the field to close each half. Gregg Williams' unit seemed completely confused at the end of the game and seemed ready to complete a monumental collapse but they somehow got to overtime.
It wasn't the dreaded prevent defense that allowed Atlanta to nearly overcome a Saints 10-point fourth quarter lead because the only thing Gregg Williams didn't throw at Matt Ryan in Atlanta's final drive was Sean Payton's crutches. I'd call what the secondary was doing a Chinese fire drill but Chinese firemen everywhere would be offended. The only thing missing watching Douglas run free was Benny Hill music. Gregg, your secondary has been destroyed in the middle of the field two weeks in a row but since you won both weeks it's cool. My heart is just asking for you to tighten up after the bye week. And I can over look your problems in the secondary because the red zone defense was great and that 4th and inches stop in overtime was probably a season changer.
I won't knock Mike Smith for going for it on 4th down and inches because the Falcons are about power football and in their biggest moment he believed in what his team does best. They just failed.
Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin delivered exactly what the Saints expected when they were signed. If the Saints win another NFC South crown they should have a picture of Mike Smith frowning on the banner.
The coaching move Smith did which I found puzzling was the onsides kick. There were four minutes left in the game, Atlanta had a timeout, and it wasn't like the Saints offense was unstoppable. It was like he thought he was coaching in a shootout instead of a 23-20 game. Knowing how bad the Saints secondary covered at the end of the game if Smith kicks it deep and forces a three and out the Saints are probably 6-4. Mike, Saints fans will send out a cookie bouquet or maybe a Christmas ham as a thank you.
While the defensive stand and Smith's coaching decisions are what everyone is talking about don't forget Marques Colston and Drew Brees.
Colston had his best game of the year catching eight passes for 113 yards. Most of those were in traffic and big third down conversions. While Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles are the newest flavors for the Saints offense, Colston is going on year six of being Mr. Reliable.
Drew Brees was a ho-hum 30 of 43 for 322 yards and two scores. Atlanta didn't blitz much until late in the game and seemed to hope Brees would eventually get impatient and make a mistake. Brees only goes on interception benders when he's hit repeatedly and made uncomfortable in the pocket but after watching the Saints offensive line get hammered by four man rushes in St. Louis and Tampa Atlanta probably thought they could do the same. Nope.
Brees has thrown for more yards through ten games then any quarterback in history. Do you think his agent leaves funny voicemails for Mickey Loomis?
'Mickey, Tom Condon here. Drew looked good today. We think General Lee should come of his horse on Lee Circle. The Brees Loop has a nice ring to it don't you think? It's on page six of my latest proposal. Let me know.'
The Saints now control their destiny in the NFC South and the path to the #3 Seed in the NFC. Remember kids if the Saints finish third in the NFC they wouldn't face the Green Bay Packers until the NFC Title game. Very important.
I didn't think Sunday's victory could be any sweeter then Jabari Greer added the cherry on top. The Falcon's marketing slogan is 'Rise up' and the way Jabari used it to twist the knife in Atlanta's stomach after the game was delightful, 'The feeling in that huddle that we were not going to be denied no matter what they did, we were going to rise up, that was special.'
I see what you did there Jabari and I love 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.