Whew. Finally it felt like Saints fans were able to relax near the end of the fourth quarter with a win comfortably in hand. In what was another roller-coaster of a game with plenty of ups and downs in the first three quarters, here are a couple that stood out.
Up: Mark Ingram
After fumbles in two straight games, Mark Ingram found himself firmly in Sean Payton’s doghouse. Opening this week’s game against the San Francisco 49ers, Tim Hightower got the start at Running Back over Ingram. It was Ingram, though, who shined the brightest in the game.
Against a 49ers defense that gave up over 5 yards per carry, it was expected the Saints runners were going to have a decent day. Ingram ran well past “decent” with an explosive career-high 158 rushing yards with a TD and tacked on another TD in the air.
The Saints won the turnover battle 4-0, and had turnovers of every variety: on downs, interception, and fumble.
The Saints defense gave up tons of yards, was able to make a few red zone stands, and - more importantly and more impressively - was able to come up with multiple turnovers at various key moments in the game. If this defense can make this a trend, it’ll definitely be a good thing.
Up: Michael Thomas
The Dallas Cowboys hold the clear #1 and #2 favorites to win the NFC Rookie of the Year Awards, but Saints rookie WR Michael Thomas would probably be considered 3rd right now, and deservedly so.
In the game against the 49ers, Thomas finished with 72 yards and had his first multi-touchdown performance of his young career. Saints QB Drew Brees continues to show faith in Thomas, turning to him in critical situations to go up and make a play. So far, Thomas is delivering.
In a rookie wide receiver class headlined at draft time by players like Corey Coleman, Laquan Treadwell, and Sterling Shephard, Saints WR Michael Thomas is proving so far to be the top of the bunch.
Down: Special Teams Play
Kickoffs, both in coverage and returns, continue to be a problem for the New Orleans Saints. Tommylee Lewis and Marcus Murphy, the Saints two primary return men, were both inactive for the game, leaving Travaris Cadet and Tim Hightower as the primary returners this week.
Cadet had a moment of hesitation on whether or not he should return a kickoff caught right at the edge of the endzone, eventually deciding to run it back to get stopped short of the 15 yard line. Another time, Cadet ran and caught a low line-drive kickoff that seemed to be heading out of bounds and ended up giving the Saints terrible field position to start their drive once again.
Then, on kickoff coverage, any time the 49ers decided to run the ball out of their own endzone, they got well past the 25 yard line, usually getting past the 30 and beyond as well. If the Saints want to make a run this season, they will need Special Teams play to improve on both sides of the kickoff.