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Saints vs. Bucs: Five Big Things from the Game

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The Saints aren't dead yet. Ok, they are, but their immortal soul still hovers over the NFL world and will do so for three more weeks. Here are five things that struck me from yesterday's 24-17 win at Tampa Bay.

Tis the Season!
Tis the Season!
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Dead...but the body still twitches.

1) How About that Defense?

"Beggars can't be choosers" is the saying; it is a fairly cold one, much like the NFL world. So although the Saints defense is not suddenly the '85 Bears, we have to be pleased with its performance against Tampa Bay yesterday.

For the first time since week seven against the Indianapolis Colts, the Saints' defense did not allow a passer rating of at least 100 to an opposing quarterback. Jameis Winston was 18 of 32 for 182 yards, one touchdown and a passer rating of 83.1. A far cry from Winston's 114.6 QB rating in a week two win by the Buccaneers over the Saints in the Mercedes Benz Superdome. Although Winston was only sacked once, the Saints contained the Buccaneers to a net yards total of 291, that's coming off a game in which they gave up 497 total net yards to Cam Newton and his Panthers. New Orleans also held the Bucs to 4 of 11 (38%) on third down and we even saw some creative playcalling from Dennis Allen, where he sent Brandon Browner on blitzes or had him off the field altogether, overall minimizing Browner's coverage duties. If they come even close to replicating this performance next Monday night against the Detroit Lions, then we can safely say that we're seeing the Dennis Allen effect start to manifest itself.

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2) Staying with the Run

Sean Payton may talk about balance all he wants in his press conferences, we all know that what he really wants to do is pass the damn ball. Pass it under center, pass it in the shotgun, pass it on field goal plays, pass it at halftime in the tunnel, and pass it until Brees' arm falls off. And yet every now and then, I have no idea how or why, Payton becomes a rational, reasonable playcaller and sticks with the running game, even when it's not exactly working.

Watching at home as Tim Hightower carried 28 times yesterday in Tampa, Mark Ingram must've wondered how he ever did Payton wrong. The highest amount of carries Ingram had this season was 22, against Tennessee in week nine. Hightower, in his first "true" NFL action since 2011, was the workhorse that kept Tampa's pass rush at bay yesterday. The most interesting thing about it all is that at halftime, Hightower had a fairly paltry 3.3 yards-per-carry average on 12 rushes. Yet, Payton did not abandon the ground game. In the end, the Saints rushed 35 times and had 41 passing attempts. And what do you know? They close the game out with Hightower rushing for the clinching first down. Sometimes football is simpler than it looks and coaches just outsmart themselves. It's a good thing Payton didn't make that mistake yesterday.

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3) Brees Now Alone in Fourth Place on NFL "Touchdown Passes" List

I'm on record saying that I think that the Saints should explore trading Drew Brees this offseason and Brees' game yesterday didn't make me change this stance. Because it's not an anti-Brees stance on my part, it's a pro-Saints stance.

However, moments like yesterday make you pause and honor one of the true greats in the game right now. It's not about being on a list, it's much more about who is on that list with you. After throwing two touchdowns on Sunday, Brees now has 421 pass TDs overall, one ahead of Dan Marino (420). The only players ahead of Brees are Peyton Manning (539), Brett Favre (508) and Tom Brady (425). It is safe to assume that Brees will finish in the top three in that category when his playing days are over. We're lucky in New Orleans to have such a great quarterback playing for our favorite sports franchise. Just ask the folks at the Falcoholic how they feel about the melting Matty Ice right now, or fans across the NFL that haven't seen this level of QB play on their team for ages. Brees may be past his prime, but let's not fail to appreciate his greatness while it's right in front of us.

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4) Have You Noticed?

We all freaked out when Jimmy Graham was traded to the Seattle Seahawks prior to the start of the season. Wait, what are you saying you didn't freak out? Sure, I know you did. But then, the Saints also traded Kenny Stills and we went into a catatonic state of shock. "Who's going to catch the ball? Help, please fix it Jesus."

Well, whoever you think fixed it, the passing game has come around in a big way. With three games to go, the Saints' top three receivers all have more than 700 receiving yards: Cooks (869), Snead (798) and Watson (712). Cooks has seven receiving touchdowns, Watson has four and Snead three. On top of this trio, if you add Marques Colston (481 yards, 3 TDs), Brandon Coleman (328 yards 2 TDs) and Josh Hill (104 yards, 2 TDs) you realize that the Saints' receiving corps, although it took some time to get going, may not be the biggest problem for New Orleans this upcoming offseason. But that's a debate for this upcoming offseason...right?

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5) Good Vibes and Better Thoughts to Damian Swann

In the fourth quarter of yesterday's game, Saints rookie cornerback Damian Swann took a blow to the head. Swann was helped off the field, visibly woozy. Swann didn't return and if the diagnostic of his injury is a concussion, it'll be the third he suffered this season alone. Swann had missed several games prior to yesterday's, because of lingering concussion symptoms. Football is a great game played by men who know the risks they're taking. However, the fact that players are aware of the risks they take when they descend on a football field doesn't mean that they stop being men with families and with a life after football. If the diagnostic is indeed a concussion for Swann, I hope the Saints shut him down for the rest of the year, to let his brain properly heal. As most of us know, the more concussions you sustain, the easier it is to get the next one. Think of it as a body part that is already tender, every other blow to it will hurt even more.

Here's to Swann hopefully recovering fully to be able to play again...next season.