The New Orleans Saints defeated the Chicago Bears 21-9, but had it not been for a garbage time touchdown drive, the Saints defense would have once again held their opponent to three or less points. The victory means that New Orleans will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Divisional Round game next Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Hosting the Buccaneers means that we as fans will once again get this season’s third iteration of the Brees-Brady bowl, something that Brees himself said last night seemed “inevitable.”
But, before one can even think about next Sunday’s game, let’s get some takeaways from the Chicago matchup that could be of help against Tampa Bay. Here we go!
Deonte Harris is electric on offense!
It was no surprise that Deonte Harris was going to be a big part of the special teams unit this season, he was a Pro Bowler as a rookie last season after all. However, there was plenty of talk during the most recent offseason about integrating him into the offense as a wide receiver. His speed, combined with his athleticism was a recipe for success, if he could successfully run routes at the NFL level.
Harris saw some sprinkling of plays into the offense such as end arounds, and quick screens to start the season. To Harris’s detriment, he missed the last six games of the season, which not only impacted the special teams unit, but also took a blossoming weapon away from the offense. Harris returned for the Wild Card matchup, but with the emergence of Marquez Callaway, and the return of Michael Thomas, no one expected him to have the level of impact that he did.
The Pro Bowler ended the night with 7 catches on 7 receptions for 83 yards. Not a bad statline, but his impact went beyond the numbers. On multiple occasions he converted third downs and helped the Saints offense get out of some sticky situations. Harris also acted as a catalyst for what was a very stale New Orleans offense for the first three quarters.
While Callaway did not have a significant impact in the game, Harris was the one to step up. This performance not only speaks to the level of play Harris is capable of, but also to the depth of the New Orleans squad.
If Harris can continue to have an impact like he did against Chicago, then this offense may have just found their next speedster and catalyst.
The offense cannot afford a slow start moving forward
One of the largest, and most frequent critiques this iteration of the Saints offense gets is their propensity to start slow. Eventually, the truck gets warmed up, starts moving, and then can’t be stopped. But, moving forward into the playoffs they will face teams whose offense can get off to a much quicker start than say Chicago’s can. In fact, their next opponent, the Buccaneers, have worked on doing just that and have found success late in the season because of it.
A slow start may have not been detrimental against the Bears, after all, it was Mitchell Trubisky, and at one point in the game the quarterback was down two of his top wide receiver options in Darnell Mooney and Anthony Miller. Who would have guessed that in the third quarter that New Orleans would have only been leading 7-3? Brees has a decent night, Alvin Kamara almost reached the century mark in rushing yards, and both Harris and Thomas looked great in the passing game.
However, the Saints offense was routinely unable to get it going in the first half. The second half was a different story as that big truck that is the New Orleans offense finally got warmed up and rolling, downhill in fact. But, Brady and the Buccaneers are going to want to get on the board early and often. The key to winning for the Saints will be to get on the board, control the time of possession, and let the defense do their thing. Speaking of the defense...
This team will go as far as the defense takes them
What a fantastic performance by the defense on Sunday against the Bears. If it were not for a garbage time touchdown drive by Trubisky that resulted in a Jimmy Graham touchdown, then this game would have ended 21-3. While the defense did not have a single interception, and only one sack, this was one of their best performances to date. They looked elite.
The Bears had only 11 first downs on ten total drives, four of which came in garbage time. New Orleans also forced five three-and-outs on the day (thanks Hayden). Fans have become accustomed to forced fumbles, interceptions and a multitude of sacks from this defense. Yet, on Sunday they showed that they can be an elite defense without any of that by just playing sound, fundamental football.
This defense is capable of winning a Super Bowl, they proved it throughout the season. They proved in the Wild Card round too. Now, they will have to face Tom Brady for a third time this season, something they are likely relishing based on past success. They are ready for the test. Now, they just need their counterparts on the offense to play to the same level. It’s possible, and they both have their chance next Sunday.
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