By Barry Hirstius – Contributing Writer
Coming into the 2018 NFL Regular Season, the New Orleans Saints had one major goal in mind: which was to get off to a “good start” during the early part their schedule, while missing the services of #1 RB Mark Ingram; who was suspended by the League for the first 4 games due to testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance this past off-season.
And even though they took a “roundabout way” in getting there, yesterday the Saints did exactly that; by playing their best football collectively as a team thus far as they defeated the New York Giants by a score of 33-18 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
With their 3rd consecutive win following a loss to Tampa Bay in the Season Opener, New Orleans now improves to (3-1) overall and took sole possession of 1st place in the NFC South Division by a half-game over Carolina (2-1), who was on a Bye Week yesterday.
The Saints’ next game is a week from tonight, when they’ll face the Washington Redskins on ESPN Monday Night Football.
But by winning 3 out of their first 4 games, the Saints got exactly what they were hoping for: which was to have a “good start” to the early part of their season, while also getting Ingram back just in time for the heart of remaining part of their season schedule and the chase for a Playoff spot in the NFC.
With yesterday’s total team effort and a quick glance at the current NFL standings this morning, perhaps it’s safe to say: mission accomplished.
NFC South After Week #4
Tampa Bay 2-2
— Barry Hirstius (@BarryHirstius) September 30, 2018
Once again, the team certainly won’t get “style points” since it wasn’t the prettiest performance by any stretch of the imagination, but yet the bottom line remains that they still managed to find a way to win.
Let’s be honest: the Saints might not be considered the League’s top team, nor are they “red hot” currently like the undefeated Los Angeles Rams or Kansas City Chiefs (who some analysts consider to be the two best teams in the NFL, at the moment).
But if nothing else, the Saints are resilient — and that’s a quality of a team that could prove valuable down the line come Playoff time.
Clearly the Saints have been anything but perfect, but considering how bad they looked during that Season Opening loss to the Buccaneers, to be sitting at (3-1) after everything that’s transpired is about as perfect a scenario that any Saints fan could have ever hoped for.
Coming into yesterday’s game, the Saints were hoping to come away with another win and essentially “survive” the early part of their schedule while Ingram was out; as they’ve clearly missed Ingram’s contributions in the running game while he’s been absent.
But 2nd year superstar and last year’s 2017 NFL Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara has taken on the role of lead back during that time, and has been nothing short of sensational while “shouldering the load” as the team’s primary runner.
Yesterday against the Giants, Kamara had a vintage performance; as he rushed for 134 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries while catching five of nine targets for 47 yards.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) September 30, 2018
Kamara carried the Saints offense on a rare “off day” from QB Drew Brees, who for one of the very few times since he’s been the Saints starting QB in the past 12 years, failed to throw a TD pass.
While Brees didn’t put up his usual numbers stats-wise, he once again avoided turnovers. He still hasn’t thrown an interception this season, and it marks the first time in Brees’ career that he has not thrown an interception in five straight games (counting last season’s 2017 Regular Season finale at Tampa Bay).
Brees has been the perfect model of efficiency, if nothing else.
But it was Kamara who more than made up for Brees’ slack by scoring TD runs of nine, four and 49 yards. He’s now racked up five rushing touchdowns this season to go with one receiving score.
But it was his final TD that basically put the game “on ice”, as he burst through the middle of the line of scrimmage and into the defensive secondary, before racing down the right sideline while out-running 3 Giants defenders on a play of sheer brilliance.
Alvin Kamara ran right out of the stadium 😂pic.twitter.com/8kQNoCMnya
— NFL Retweet (@NFLRT) September 30, 2018
Kamara’s performance was so impressive that he even had CBS announcer and former Dallas Cowboys starting QB Tony Romo openly gushing over him like a smitten fan-boy, and Romo even noted (quite accurately, in fact) that it seems that Kamara “glides” as he runs with the football.
Whether you want to call it “gliding” or would prefer some other terminology, what Kamara did in Ingram’s absence is absolutely phenomenal.
In the 4 games that Ingram missed, Kamara rushed for 275 yards on 56 carries; and also caught 35 passes out of the backfield for an additional 336 receiving yards.
All told, Kamara tallied over 600 yards worth of total offense while Ingram was out.
“It starts with that O-Line,” Kamara said to reporters after the game. “Our o-line is tremendous. They want to run the ball. When we call a run play, they act like they’re getting the ball. It makes it easy for me to be able to get behind them. When I score, it’s like they score a touchdown.”
Now Kamara will get some much-needed help, when Ingram returns from his four-game suspension later this morning.
Kamara told reporters that he and Ingram had talked on the phone before the game, and said that he figured Ingram would be there at the airport when they landed; and acknowledged that it was great to have Ingram coming back.
“It’s about to be ugly,” Kamara said, smiling with a wide grin.
Indeed it is.
Consider this: as noted first by NOLA.com / The Times Picayune writer Jeff Duncan on Twitter, in road wins against the Falcons and the Giants in back-to-back weeks; the Saints scored 8 TD’s and kicked 7 field goals in 23 offensive possessions. They only punted a total of 6 times. The other two series were end-of-game kneel-downs.
In road wins agains the Falcons & Giants, the Saints scored 8 TDs and kicked 7 field goals in 23 offensive possessions. They punted only six times. The other two series were end-of-game kneel-downs. That’s dominant offensive football. Oh, and they get Mark Ingram back next week.
— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncan_) October 1, 2018
As Duncan notes: that’s dominant offensive football — and it’s indicative of how well the Saints were able to compensate for Ingram’s absence, despite a few rather shaky performances from back-up Mike Gillislee.
Now the Saints will have Ingram back in the fold, and the running game should see some dramatic improvement with his return to the line-up.
It’s important to recognize that while the Saints offense continues its proficiency, there were a handful of other noteworthy contributions that made yesterday’s win possible.
The O-Line was outstanding for the most part, and the team’s 173-yard rushing performance yesterday marked a season high for a unit that was finally at “full strength” for the first time this season.
The defense had its best performance of the year so far (after the unit’s very notable struggles of the first few weeks), led by linebacker Demario Davis; who had 11 tackles along with 2 sacks of Giants QB Eli Manning.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) September 30, 2018
That performance was further enhanced by 4th year CB PJ Williams, who after getting burned badly last week at Atlanta by Falcons rookie WR Calvin Ridley; yesterday redeemed himself with a big-time hit on Giants RB Wayne Galman that forced a fumble which Marshon Lattimore then scooped up and returned 37 yards, to set up a 2nd quarter field goal.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) September 30, 2018
And speaking of field goals, kicker Wil Lutz converted all 4 of his field goal attempts from 42, 34, 37 and 22 yards, and has been near-perfect this season so far.
It’s those little contributions that we didn’t see much of in the first few games, that the team has obviously been focusing on improving the past several weeks.
“We’re (3-1) after the first quarter of the season…I feel like we’re getting better each week and that’s what’s most important to me,” Brees said after the game.
“I feel like we’re beginning to play more complementary football and not just on offense with run to pass, but really as a team. Understanding how to win football games. We’ve won in a lot of different ways and found ourselves in a lot of different circumstances already and it’s still early in the season.”
“These are things that strengthen you, bring you together and begin to help you form your identity as a team.”
For the Saints, that identity seems to be resiliency — and the belief that they should never quit fighting or give up, no matter what the circumstances are or how impossible things may seem.
It’s that resiliency that allowed them to earn a key victory over a fellow conference opponent, and now has them sitting at (3-1) and right back on top of their division.
The Saints landed back in New Orleans last night around midnight. They spotted a familiar face waiting for them just outside of security.
It belonged to Mark Ingram.
— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) October 1, 2018
And with Ingram’s expected return to the team’s Training Facility in Metairie later on this morning, it also means that they have achieved the goal that was set before the start of the season: getting off to a “good start” during his absence, and hopefully competing for a spot in the NFL Playoffs for a 2nd straight season.
In other words, Saints fans?
Editor’s Note: If you enjoy Barry’s writing, be sure to check out his detailed story on the how the Saints and their fans are tackling the controversial NFL-National Anthem issue, featuring his interview with Saints linebacker Demario Davis! Don’t forget to also check out our series on things to do in New Orleans as well as a piece we released today on a controversial movie filmed in New Orleans!