The New Orleans Saints opened their 53rd NFL season with a thud, falling at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48-40. The Saints defensive performance was embarrassing, giving up 417 yards passing and 4 scores on just 21 completions to Tampa Bay's backup quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Saints front line did not generate any pressure at all, and allowed Fitzpatrick 36 more yards and another touchdown on the ground. The New Orleans secondary was helpless against the Buccaneer receivers, giving up a combined 293 yards and three scores against Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. The defense didn't fare much better against the run, allowing what was thought to be a pedestrian Tampa rushing game over 100 yards for the game, and keeping the New Orleans defense on their heels with a play action attack. The Saints running game struggled without Pro Bowl back Mark Ingram as well, averaging only 3.6 yards per carry and netting just 48 yards rushing for the game. While it's back to the drawing board for the New Orleans defense for a week two meeting with the Cleveland Browns, there were a few shining stars in yesterday's game. Let's have a look at a couple players for the Saints that did stand out, as they look to rebound from yesterday's disappointing performance.
Kamara was last year's offensive rookie of the year, and looks as if he's only scratched the surface of what he can do. Against a Tampa Bay defense focused on containing him, especially in the absence of Mark Ingram, Kamara had 9 receptions for 112 yards, 29 yards rushing, 3 total touchdowns and a 2-pt. conversion. We didn't get to see much of Kamara's ability as a rusher, with just eight carries on the day, but that could have been a combination of Saints pass-heavy game plan, along with the fact that New Orleans was playing from behind most of the afternoon. With both Mike Gillislee and Jonathan Williams ineffectiveness (four carries, nine yards, and a fumble), we could see Kamara utilized as a runner even more in the upcoming weeks until Ingram's return. Don't expect New Orleans do shy away from his talents as a receiver, however, but instead giving Kamara an even bigger role in the Saints offense.
Thomas broke a team record that had stood since 1978 (Tony Galbreath) by catching 16 passes against the Bucs. He also led all receivers with 180 yards and added a touchdown. Thomas did have a crucial drop that hastened the end of one New Orleans third quarter drive, and a critical fumble on the following possession that halted a Saints scoring drive. Make no mistake though, Thomas has quickly become one of the finest receivers in the NFL, and his assault on the team's record books appears to have just begun. The combination of Thomas and Kamara seems nearly impossible for any defense to contain, and gives the New Orleans offense perhaps the most dangerous 1-2 punch combination in the league.
Brees was, well Brees. While most of his team did little to support him, the 39-yr. old future Hall of Famer was magnificent, completing 82% of his passes for 439 yards and 3 touchdown passes. He moved his offense despite the absence of a running game (just 43 yards on 13 carries), and an abysmal defensive performance. Brees' performance leaves him now just 1,056 passing yards short of Peyton Manning's all-time yardage record, but the Saints hopes for a successful season will likely be dashed if the team cannot again become balanced around their iconic signal caller.
For the first time since 1985, the Saints took the field without their owner. Benson, who has been the team's owner since 1985, passed away in March. He was inducted into the team's Ring of Honor on Sunday. His contributions to the franchise, and the city, will never be forgotten. Under his leadership, New Orleans won the first division championship in their history (1987), established themselves as a perennial playoff contender, first playoff win (2000), and of course a Super Bowl championships in 2009. These were just a few among the many achievements that Mr. Benson and his franchise accomplished in over three decades through the Gulf Coast region who looked at their team as part of the family. The culture that Mr. Benson put in place will continue through his wife Gayle, with his name overlooking the franchise he built that embodies an entire region.