If Sean Payton had a list of things he wanted to see happen on Sunday the Saints delivered almost all of them and results around the NFC made the day almost perfect for the Saints head coach. The list of things he wanted might have looked something like this...
- Need better running game so let's rush for 212 yards on 32 carries for 6.6 yards a pop. Done.
- We also need to get a couple big plays in the passing game so maybe we could hit Lance Moore and Robert Meachem for a couple of 40 yard touchdown throws. CHECK.
- The turnovers need to stop and we should at least finish even in the turnover column. BAM.
- It would also be really sweet if Atlanta would lose in Philadelphia, the Bears would get Jay Cutler crushed and fall at home to Seattle and throw in Green Bay losing at home to Miami for the cherry on top then we'd be on top in the NFC even though we aren't playing anywhere near 2009 levels. ASK AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE.
- And it would really help me sleep at night at Garrett Hartley could kick a couple of short field goals right down the middle. Sigh.
Ok so Payton didn't see anything from Hartley to make him any less nervous on field goals than fans watching at home. Wait, that's not true because fans at home who are 21 are legally allowed to help take the edge off with adult beverages. The Saints kicking situation will sort itself out and by sort itself out I mean Hartley is one more big miss from not being on the roster.
Kicking situation aside on the flight home from Tampa Sean Payton probably felt pretty good about where the Saints are six weeks into 2010. They don't look like the dominating tour de force edition of 2009 but clearly that edition of the Saints isn't needed to get back to the Super Bowl.
We are six weeks into the season and there are two things I'm really sure of; the Saints aren't as good as last year and the NFC is at least as bad as it was in 2006.
In 2006 the Saints went 10-6 and were the #2 seed in the NFC. The way it's looking in 2010 11-5 might grab the top seed in the conference.
In our little world we sometimes over analyze everything the Saints are doing and forget the big picture. The Saints definitely have a couple of issues (kicker, consistent running game, pass rush and injuries at RB and secondary) but have you looked around the NFC?
The Bears Jay Cutler might not last until November as he is getting ground to a pulp in Mike Martz's offense. In St. Louis Martz ran the 'The Greatest Show on Turf' in Chicago its 'The Greatest Show in the Turf' as Jay Cutler is constantly being driven into it. Bears will fade.
Green Bay was supposed to be a Super Bowl contender but they are decimated by injuries on defense, a shaky offensive line, and an even shakier coach. Mike McCarthy looks like a younger Wade Phillips at the end of games. The Packers are 7-13 in games decided by a touchdown or less under McCarthy. If the Saints could kick field goals then everyone might be noticing the obvious about Atlanta; Matt Ryan isn't very good on the road. The Saints are far from being great right now but of all the teams in the NFC they have the Lombardi trophy.
The win in Tampa showed the Saints can right the ship but the Bucs aren't yet built to win games. They are rebuilding and have figured out how not to lose games which in the NFL is 75 percent of the battle.
Tampa plays hard, doesn't make mistakes or turn the ball over, and they wait for bad teams to give them the game. Usually it works. On Sunday they didn't have a bunch of turnovers or penalties but the Saints didn't turn the ball over and wouldn't simply give away the game like they did in Arizona. Tampa isn't good enough to make plays and win a game without help.
I'm not sure how the Saints will play against the elite teams in the NFL but all the elite teams are in the AFC so right now that's not an important question. The NFC is begging for someone to take control of it. The Saints play one elite team (Pittsburgh) and one other team (Seattle) with a winning record over the next six weeks. When we get to Thanksgiving the rest of the NFC may be lamenting the fact they didn't put some distance between themselves and the Saints.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on facebook, or listen to his Saints podcast at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/forecastradio