Saturday, April 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

These New Orleans Saints don't march so much as they sprint

NEW ORLEANS

Another year, another playoff, and there they go. The Saints are off and running again.

Try to keep up, won't you?

The rest of the NFL, too.

They are fast and they are bold and they are dangerous, and if another team wants to run with them, it's going to need a spare set of cleats. The Saints play football the way a track team runs relays, the way a basketball team runs the fastbreak. They are breathless and relentless, and they never run a play in which the end zone seems too far away to consider.

After Saturday night, it is possible they are racing toward another Super Bowl.

From the looks of it, they are trying to get there by Tuesday.

These are the Saints, a team in a constant hurry, a team that seems convinced that it can win with an offense with afterburners and a defense that is an afterthought. Around New Orleans, the game plan always seems to be to race to the end zone and see who gets there the most often.

Saturday night, that was enough. The Saints scored plenty in a 45-28 win, and they gained more than 600 yards. Who knows how bad it might have been if New Orleans hadn't gotten off to a slow start? Regardless, there was nothing wrong with the construction of the Saints against the Lions.

As the playoffs proceed, we'll see.

As good as the Saints offense is, there is something unsettling about the New Orleans defense. It gives up a lot of plays, a lot of yards, a lot of points. It's like a boxer who doesn't mind swapping punches. One slip, and the contest ends as he is tasting his own blood.

Much of that, it should be said, seems to be the trend in the NFL. Time was, a defense wanted to beat its opponent up. It wanted to turn the ground into quicksand and the air into tear gas. It wanted to smother running backs and batter quarterbacks. You know, like the old Bears, or the old Ravens, or the old Bucs.

These days, the teams with the really good quarterbacks seem content to steal a possession or two. That's enough. Who cares how many yards an opponent gains if you can gain more? Who cares if the other team scores a little as long as you can score a lot? Detroit, for instance, had a terrific game, and it lost by 17.

Besides, the Saints aren't the only team playing offense first. This year, no team gave up more yardage than the Packers. The Patriots were next-to-last. The Saints were 24th. In all, half of the teams in this year's playoffs were ranked 20th or lower.

Ah, but most of the teams can light it up. The Saints, too.

Against Detroit, Brees threw for 466 yards, and it looked as effortless as a seven-on-seven drill. You cannot help but wonder how many points will be scored if the Saints and Packers end up playing for the NFC title, as many expect. Someone might break a scoreboard.

There for a while, before Brees got hot, the Lions looked as if they might get in the way of all that. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was hot early, and the Lions kept finding the gaps in the Saints secondary. When it was 14-7 Detroit in the second quarter, and when you saw Calvin Johnson catching balls all over the field (he finished with 12 catches for 211 yards and two touchdowns), you could have sworn you heard Tobin Rote and Joe Schmidt and the boys starting to cheer across the decades.

It has been such a lonely trip across the desert for Detroit. The Lions have only won one playoff game since winning the 1957 NFL championship. They've had 11 shots since then, and they've lost 10, and it didn't matter that players such as Barry Sanders and Charlie Sanders and Lem Barney have worked there. There were always too many bad quarterbacks and too many bad plans and too much Matt Millen for the Lions to succeed.

There is something different about these Lions, something more cohesive, something that has a chance to get even better. But, no, Detroit isn't ready for the Saints yet.

Even with the defensive holes, these Saints can go a long way. Brees has had a terrific season, almost as good as the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, and his weapons look like something out of a Bond movie. This offense plays as if it is ticked that it has to come off the field for the defense.

Ah, but can it stop opponents enough to race to Indianapolis? Can it keep winning games when it gives up four touchdowns?

Maybe. The more you see Brees throw, the more you think … maybe.

Racing for records

The Saints broke, tied or came close to some records Saturday:

Broke

Total yards: 626 (old mark 610, Chargers, vs. Patriots, AFL, 1963)

Tied

Most first downs: 34 (Chargers, vs. Dolphins, OT, 1981)

Came close

Individual passing yards: Drew Brees, 466, second (489, Bernie Kosar, Browns vs. Jets, OT, 1986)

Points in second half: 35, tied for second (Bears, 45 vs. Redskins, 1940)

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