Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
On Sunday in Tennessee the Saints overcame the referees, the Titans, and in some cases themselves to clinch a playoff spot for the third year in a row. Then the Arizona Cardinals beat the San Francisco 49ers and suddenly a bye in the playoffs is very much in play, which makes for as good a Sunday afternoon as you can have in December.
The Saints overcame a defense continuing their frightening trend of lighting themselves on fire whenever they are given a two score lead and then did juuust enough to hang on. Dear Gregg Williams, for the love of all good things on earth would you please stop calling all out blitzes with a two-touchdown lead in the middle of the fourth quarter. The Titans were down 22-10 and the only thing that could keep them in the game was a quick touchdown drive. So you go blitz happy and Tennessee scores in three plays to make it 22-17. Your game plans are completely infuriating because on the one hand you completely shut down Chris Johnson (11 carries for 23 yards) and on the other you look like a 14-year-old calling out all blitzes on Madden because it seems like fun. Your defense is a Class A fire hazard do not add gasoline which is what you call all out blitzes.
As horrifying as the defense was midway through the fourth I actually saw two things that give me hope. The Saints shut down a team's #1 playmaker two weeks in a row (last week Calvin Johnson and the previously mentioned Chris Johnson.) The second aspect of the defense I liked was the play of Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin. They completely dominated the interior of the Titan line and when the Saints watch the film they will probably scream a lot of, 'See THAT IS WHAT WE THOUGH WE WOULD GET ALL YEAR!' Better late then never right? They proved again in short yardage they could stuff a team.
The corners still can't tackle consistently but Tracy Porter did have a huge pass break up on the second to last play to save the Saints. In case you were wondering it's official; Roman Harper is a dirty player. We might all like him and root for him but he's dirty.
At this point the Saints defense is like watching an infant crossing a deserted interstate highway. It's dangerous and you're sort of nervous but there aren't any cars coming and if the baby would just crawl faster everything would be ok. Then you see a Mack truck off in the distance and PLEASE CRAWL FASTER TODDLER and just when you think tragedy is a certainty, the baby makes it across 10 seconds before the truck crushes him and he looks up at you asking why you were so scared in the first place.
If the Saints only had to overcome their shaky defense they would have strolled to an easy win. They also had to come an officials crew who dished out 19 combined penalties and had a few questionable calls. The Saints had a superb Darren Sproles punt return called back because of a holding call and at least three 20+ yard gains taken away as well. I'd like the NFL to explain to me what they saw to overturn Tracy Porter's sack fumble on Jack Locker. I thought they needed conclusive evidence to overturn calls? They did get the Jimmy Graham call right I think but overall it was horrendous officiating.
Finally the Saints had to overcome a pretty good Titan team fighting for their playoff lives. Every time the Titans landed a punch the Saints answered. Those answers mostly involved Drew Brees hitting Marques Colston for touchdowns. Drew, we'll pretend that awful throw on third down late in the game which should have been a pick six didn't happen. Cool? Cool.
After watching Chicago blow a 10-0 lead to Tim Tebow in Denver I'm not going to knock a road win against a winning team. The Saints seemingly had everything going against them late and you might say the Saints escaped but they'd say they found a way. The bottom line is if Jimmy Graham's back issues aren't serious then with three games left the Saints are looking pretty good in the NFC.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at email@example.com, find him on facebook, or follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/MilneMalbrough or download his podcast on Itunes.