Ralph Marlborough / Contributing Writer
What the New Orleans Saints did to the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night should be classified as cruel and unusual punishment in most states.
The Saints offensive stat line from the game reads like the body count in a 1980's slasher film; 625 total yards, NFL-record 40 first downs, 242 yards rushing, and 9 of 12 third down conversions. Funny thing none of those stats are the most unbelievable of the night.
It could be Drew Brees completing 16 of his first 18 passes. But it's not.
It could be the Saints defense pitching a perfect game on third down defense by not allowing Dallas to convert even one third down in 9 chances.
Nope. It's none of those.
The most incredible stat of the night is Mark Ingram returning from the dead and rushing for 145 yards on 14 carries.
During the week I try to think of every scenario that might happen in the Saints game so I can have ideas for columns. Mark Ingram turning into Deuce McAllister from 2003 didn't cross my mind. Does this mean Ingram's career is revitalized or is the Dallas defense the twin brother of the 2012 Saints defense? I'll go with the latter but give Mark Ingram credit for playing hard and stepping up when he got his shot.
We've been lucky enough to watch seven and a half years of Drew Brees and a night like Sunday can sometimes feel routine.
It shouldn't be. He was remarkable in every way but right before half time should be put in a time capsule and filed under, 'Lessons on how an NFL quarterback runs the last four minutes of a half and destroys an opponent.'
The Saints led 14-10 and got the ball with 4:01 left in the second quarter when Brees took the Saints 46 yards in 9 plays for a score. Then the Saints got the ball with 53 seconds left. Brees proceeded to complete five of six throws including a beautifully set up screen to Darren Sproles for a touchdown.
Game, set, match, Saints.
It's hard to judge just how good this 2013 Saints offense can be based on the destruction of the Cowboys because as mentioned above they stink like spoiled milk, but at least the Saints showed it is possible for them to achieve balance on offense.
The Saints also put the uneven performance in New York behind them. Rob Ryan's defense never let Tony Romo get comfortable at all and even when the Cowboys recovered an onsides kick after pulling to 35-17 the Saints shut the door right in their face. The Saints are by no means perfect but I'm not in the mood to talk about their major flaw of struggling to stop the run. You know what really helps a 31st ranked run defense? 18-point half time leads. The Saints sacked Romo three times and held Dallas to 193 total yards. The Cowboys defense is horrible but their offense is elite. The Saints shut them down cold.
Everyone talks about how the next three weeks (49ers, Falcons, and Seahawks) will decide if the Saints can be in position to get the top seed in the NFC. I'm going to argue it's really the next two weeks which will decide it.
If you happened to watch the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers play an old-fashioned 10-9 brawl you know the Saints are in for a steel cage match next Sunday. Then after having what looks like a 12 round street fight with an angry Jim Harbaugh team, the Saints face the Atlanta Falcons four days later. The 49ers seem to me to be the last team I'd want to play the week before a Thursday night game.
The Saints are pretty secure for a playoff spot but Carolina is right on their heals and if Sunday night taught us anything it's Drew Brees at home is a killing machine and Brees + home playoff game = very good times.
The next two weeks will tell us if the Saints can set up that equation.
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.