NEW ORLEANS – Give Sean Payton credit. The New Orleans Saints coach contained himself a whole lot better than New England contained his offense.
Drew Brees finished Monday with a perfect 158.3 QB rating.
In the aftermath of a stunning 38-17 dismantling of the Patriots on Monday night at the Superdome, Payton said all the right things. The closest he came to bragging was when he slipped, oh so slightly, and called quarterback Drew Brees'(notes) performance "magnificent." Other than that, Payton sold the victory as another good day at the office, but certainly nothing to hang the hopes and dreams of a season on.
OK, maybe we'll buy that. But at a time when the term "statement win" is vastly overused, this game actually qualified. On Monday, the Saints laid waste to the Patriots, putting on an offensive and defensive performance that made the gap between them and most of the rest of the NFL a chasm.
At 11-0, the Saints are tied with Indianapolis for the best record in the league, one game ahead of Minnesota. But anyone who saw New England play Indianapolis on Nov. 15 will tell you that what the Saints did to the Patriots was scary good by comparison.
Start with Brees, who completed 18 of 23 passes for 371 yards, five touchdowns for a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3 (don't ask why, but that's the best you can get in the rating formula).
Brees averaged 16.1 yards per pass attempt. To put that in perspective, 8.0 yards per pass attempt during a season is considered championship-caliber numbers. Brees more than doubled that against a team that is considered a solid contender to make the Super Bowl from the AFC.
Overall, the Saints piled up 480 yards of total offense and they weren't really trying in the final two possessions of the game.
"We were able to take some shots down the field," Brees said in one of the great understatements of the season. Overall, the Saints had seven pass plays of 20 yards or longer, including two of 60 or longer.
If this were against St. Louis or Cleveland or Tampa Bay, it would qualify as impressive. The fact it came against New England is staggering.
Not that the Patriots defense is anything special. Anybody who ripped Belichick for going for it on fourth-and-2 against the Colts near the 2-minute warning instead of giving his defense a try should reconsider their stance. New England's defense is in transition and fraught with problems that come with youth in key positions.
But more on that later.
What Brees did Monday was equivalent to surgically removing New England's heart. In doing so, he gave the Saints some perspective on just how far they can take this season.
"[The win] only counts for one win on the stat sheet," Brees said. "But emotionally, those types of wins can mean a little bit more. We played a tremendous football team tonight. They know how to win; they do things the right way."
All true, and if you're going to become a great team, as the Patriots have been this decade, you have to beat teams like that.
"It is different because of the stature of the team we were playing," said New Orleans safety Darren Sharper(notes), who grabbed his eighth interception of the season Monday, tying him for league best. "It can give us the boost to prove we can be one of the best teams in the NFL."
Of course, the Saints already had a hint of that on offense. Getting on defense as well was the key. Using a variety of blitzes and cover schemes, the Saints slowed down New England quarterback Tom Brady(notes) (21 of 36 for 237 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions).
The Saints consistently made Brady uncomfortable in the pocket and made him hold the ball longer than he prefers.
Of course, all of this can fade in a heartbeat, but there is plenty of pressure on the Saints to keep going. With Minnesota just a game back at 10-1 (and with its only loss coming against AFC opponent Pittsburgh), the Saints may have no choice but to push to go undefeated if they want to assure home-field advantage in the playoffs. That feat is possible with their remaining schedule: Atlanta, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Washington left.
Then again, if the Saints play anything like this the rest of the way, going undefeated won't be too hard.
As far as the Patriots are concerned, their defense is in chaos, a shadow of its former self unable to stop good offensive teams.
Among the long pass plays was an ugly, 75-yard touchdown to wide receiver Devery Henderson(notes) in which no defender was within 20 yards of him. The play unfolded in brutal fashion for New England when cornerback Jonathan Wilhite(notes) blitzed on the play, leaving Henderson alone.
Safety Brandon Meriweather(notes) was supposed to take Henderson. Instead, Meriweather continued to stare at Brees and even bought the hard look that the quarterback gave to his own left, leaving Henderson wide open on the right side.
That might rank as one of the worst five defensive plays the Patriots have had this decade.
That lack of defensive ability played out on the New England offense as the Patriots were forced to go on fourth down three times. The last one was a critical play. Down 31-17 in the third quarter, the Patriots went on fourth-and-4 from New Orleans' 10-yard line. The Patriots had a seemingly good matchup with Moss lined up against cornerback Mike McKenzie(notes), whom the Saints had brought back only a week ago after he was out of football for a year.
McKenzie broke up the pass and the Saints put the game on ice with a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
McKenzie then danced his way back to the New Orleans sideline.