This past weekend marked the first time I'd ever gone to a game that was not held in the Superdome. Awesomely enough, it was one of the most entertaining games I've ever attended, and the Saints' ability to rebound from an early 21-point deficit has convinced me that we really are really for real. Really. Some observations:
First and foremost, I have to say that Dolphins fans are as nice in person as they seemed to be on CSC--while we were tailgating, I can't tell you how many people had positive things to say about our team and how nice they generally were. It was remarkable--I was afraid there were going to be some real jerks trying to start stuff with us (since 6 of us Saints fans went together), but people were remarkably friendly. The Dolphins fans tailgating next to us gave us BBQ and beer, and even once we went into the stadium there wasn't any sort of animosity. Lots of Who Dats in attendance, as well--was amazed how many Saints fans showed up. There was a great vibe before the game started, but it soured for us relatively quickly after kickoff.
The nonsense with the booth review was bad enough, but then Brees went and threw two picks early on, and our D let Ricky Williams loose on that nearly-70-yard TD run. The whole beginning to the game really got the home crowd fired up and had the Saints fans grumbling towards the beer stations to drink our frustrations away. At the time, though, I said that I knew we could win this game, and the crazy thing was I actually believed it! In years past, I might say to others (or even to myself) that we were still in a game even though we were looking crazy bad, but I didn't honestly believe we could do it--but, like almost everyone, it feels like the team this year is different.
The TD right before the end of the second quarter (oops--thanks cp) was the turning point in terms of the atmosphere of the stadium--it just woke up all the Saints fans in the crowd, and we all huddled out to the smoking areas together with way too much happiness for a team still down by 14. But everyone seemed upbeat, and there really was no doubt that we were going to come back. Which is what we did; Sharper's pick-six at the beginning of the 2nd half was all we needed for proof--and it really shut the Dolphins fans up. There was so much scoring (I can't tell you how many times they played that awful Jimmy Buffett song) and so many beers that everything sort of ran together; I'm glad I TiVo'd the game because I missed a lot of stuff when it happened live, but the general feeling was that the Saints were rallying and the Dolphins couldn't stop them. It's amazing that it actually happened, especially given the ominous beginning to the game. Here's what stood out:
- Colston did not seem to be on his game. Looking at his stats, he had a pretty decent game (he was so open on the TD play, I could've caught that pass), but watching the game live it just seemed like he wasn't making catches he usually makes easily (the INT wrestled away from him is the clearest example), and I think I expected him to dominate the Dolphins' secondary, who played much better than I expected.
- Brees was a little off, too, probably because he was getting sacked every other play it seemed like. The dominated our line at the beginning of the game (and Reggie in pass protection--ugh), but that seemed to be solved after our halftime adjustments were put in place. Still, Drew had a few throws too high, his timing was off on several occassions, and those three picks... But what's important is he showed he could rally, and I love that he not once, but twice dove into the endzone on his own. The second QB sneak seemed like he could've run for 20 yards if he had to. I love that he never lost his confidence, as well, and he really showed the leadership a great QB has to have.
- Playcalling--initially--was head-scratching. The first few series it seemed like we were in 5 WR sets for every down, and every time Drew threw to Reggie and Reggie dropped it. It felt like that happened 10 times in the first quarter; all the Who Dat fans around me (once we were down by 2 TDs) starting complaining that Payton reverted to the 2007 strategy of never running the ball. Again, in the 2nd half the change was noticeable.
- Special teams had a bright spot, finally, with Roby's long return. But Carney has to be able to make a straightforward FG, even it's longer than his old tired legs are used to. And missing extra points? Come on. And what's happened to our punt return man? Did we trade him away or something? Because there was a time where we'd actually gain yards on punt returns and this new guy--number 25 or something--just sort of flounders around and then gets tackled.
- Defensively we played pretty well, although Williams' long rush TD (and his other 2) made me wonder if our run D is as good as I've been saying it is. I have total confidence in our secondary, despite a few long gains they had through the air, but I think we need to do something to tighten up our rush D. Jonathan Vilma looked like the defensive MVP from where I was sitting--it seemed like every time I looked up at the Jumbotron he was right in the middle of things. Anthony Hargrove appeared to be everywhere too.
- Initially it seemed like they ran the Wildcat on every freakin play, and it seemed to be pretty successful. The stat I saw post-game was 14 plays out of the formation for only 30 yards, but it really looked a lot more successful. When they weren't running plays out of the Wildcat, our D seemed to play much better; but the formation didn't really help them dominate the clock, as TOP seemed pretty even throughout the game (I think we actually held the ball for like 5 min more?).
It was undoubtedly an entertaining game and also unbelievable that we were able to pull off the comeback. There was sort of this surreal feeling by the end of the game that I can't even describe--and everyone said to me as I was walking out, "Well, we'll see y'all here in February I guess." Let's hope so.
Bring on the Falcons; that Monday night matchup is going to be awesome. Then I'll be back in New Orleans for my mother's birthday/the Panthers game. By then I hope we'll be 8-0, halfway through a historic season for us. WHO DAT!!!!
Here are the pics. And, yes, I know--my seats are very high up, and my camera's not so great. sorry. these were the only ones that weren't impossibly blurry. you try taking pictures, holding a beer, AND ringing a saints cowbell all at the same time--not easy, I assure you.
On the way into the stadium
Dolphins fans out in full force.
I felt the comeback starting about now... I thought I'd try and catch an INT on film
Half-time Who Dats.
Reggie bout to FLY into the endzone!
Only Saints fans left in the last 2 minutes of the game. The home crowd left for the sad, long drive in Miami traffic.
Some disgruntled Dolphins fan hung a banner over the scoreboard.
Lots of Saints fans around the stadium post-game