Saints vs Dolphins: Perfection at stake
The Saints are now 3-0 for the first time since their Super Bowl run in 2009, and this past Sunday's victory against the Cardinals definitely feels better for the Black and Gold because it was such a decisive win, 31-7, compared to the narrow wins the Saints ground out in Weeks 1 and 2.
Statistics show 75 percent of the teams that start 3-0 make the playoffs, but head coach Sean Payton says his squad is having no issues focusing on the next game and the next game only.
"It is easy. It is really easy," Payton said. "What's most important is - this is the game that we control this week. It is not all those other things. The Arizona Cardinals were 4-0 last year at the start of the season and ended up firing the general manager and head coach. Our game is too difficult each week, and one thing we do a good job of is eliminating the distractions."
The next game up is a Monday Night Football showdown in the Superdome with the Miami Dolphins, who are coming off of a thrilling, last-second win over the Atlanta Falcons in Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins are now the sole focus for Saints players, according to center Brian de la Puente.
"We've got 16 single-game seasons," de la Puente said. "We are going to approach this week with Miami as a one-game season and that's all that's on our mind. If we can compartmentalize and keep focused on the task at hand, the big picture, 'The Noise' as Coach Payton calls it - we won't listen to it."
One big reason the Saints are perfect on the season: a rejuvenated defense that's performing better than most expected.
The Saints are 1 of only 7 teams in the league who have given up fewer than 900 total yards through Week 3. They rank 6th in that category, second in the NFC only to the Seattle Seahawks.
The Cardinals opening drive went for 80-yards and accounted for their only score, because the Saints locked them down from there.
Injured defensive captain Jonathan Vilma watched from the sidelines and was impressed with the composure this young group showed.
"What I saw when the defense got off the field was no panic and that was the best thing," Vilma said. "You give up a touchdown and obviously, that's not how you envision a game starting. We came to the sideline, no panic, made some corrections, got some water, and said 'Okay, relax, take a deep breath. They're a good team, they're in the NFL too. Let's go out and make some plays.' That was probably the best thing I saw: the attitude, the demeanor was great. For as bad as it could have gone, everyone could have been complaining and blaming the other person. Fortunately, we all stuck together."
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's unit produced four sacks and two interceptions, handing the ball back to quarterback Drew Brees and company, who played hot, finally posting the type of points Who Dat fans are accustomed to seeing. Tight end Jimmy Graham hauled in 2 touchdown passes and wide receiver Robert Meacham snagged a 27-yard pass from Brees, showing what the Saints hoped he would when they brought him back into the fold.
"It wasn't until special teams got us some great field position, that we got some momentum going, and we were able to go down and get a touchdown," Brees said. "Prior to that it was just the defense putting a lot of pressure on them, continuing to get us the ball back, get us opportunities. It was only a matter of time before we broke the seal and were able to get things going on all cylinders. But to come out of the game only giving up seven points and that was on the first drive, after that, getting a couple turnovers, putting pressure on them: that was big."
The spotlight will be big Monday night as the Saints and Dolphins tussle on national television with a perfect record hanging in the balance for the winner.
Miami is 3-0 for the first time since 2002, hungry to make a play for the AFC title.
The Saints are 9-2 in the Sean Payton era in Monday Night Football battles.
The last time the Saints played the Dolphins in the regular season back in 2009, the match up unfolded in Miami and the Black and Gold stormed back from a 21-point deficit to win.