First impressions. In life, the first impression that one makes can be a lasting one. When New Orleans Saints’ running back Mark Ingram ran 38 yards off right tackle on the team’s first play from scrimmage yesterday evening, it was not only a good first impression, but it also served notice to the visiting Philadelphia Eagles (and the rest of the entire League) that New Orleans means business this season – a season that appears to be becoming a very special one for the franchise.
With the beat-down of the defending World Champions (who fell to 4-6 overall), New Orleans won their ninth consecutive game. That win gave them a commanding three-game lead in the NFC South Division over the (6-4) Carolina Panthers, who were beaten 20-19 in the final minute by the Detroit Lions on a failed 2-point conversion pass attempt by quarterback Cam Newton.
The (9-1) Saints were impressive from start to finish yesterday, and Ingram’s big run on the game’s first play was clearly a further indication of things to come.
In fact, New Orleans scored nine times on their first 10 possessions of the game, and they out-gained Philly in total team yardage by a difference of 546-196, a whopping 350-yard disparity between the teams. It’s the largest such disparity in total team yardage within the NFL so far this season and the largest for the Philadelphia franchise dating all the way back to their 1966 season over 50-plus years ago.
Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that New Orleans’ 41-point margin of victory was the single largest defeat of a reigning Super Bowl champion from the previous year. Not only that, the points they managed to put up yesterday made it their third straight game of scoring at least 45 points or more.
The Saints in successive weeks have scored 45, 51, and 48 points in the past three games; with all of them coming in wins over playoff contenders (the previously undefeated Rams, Bengals, and the Eagles).
Not surprisingly, yesterday the Saints offense ran like a well-oiled machine, and quarterback Drew Brees continued his masterful performance this season; completing 22 of 30 pass attempts for 363 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.
The 39-year old Brees had a passer efficiency rating yesterday of (153.2), which tied for the 5th best of his career. Through 11 games, Brees now has a remarkable 126.9 passer efficiency rating along with a 25-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio; and his jaw-dropping 76.9 completion percentage currently leads the NFL.
You’d have to believe that those numbers would firmly put Brees ahead in the chase for League MVP over Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley; whose respective teams will face each other later on tonight on ESPN Monday Night Football.
Brees was aided in the receiving game by rookie wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith, who had a phenomenal performance with 10 catches for 157 yards and a highlight reel 15-yard catch at the goal line for a touchdown; after he took a big hit while crossing the goal line.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) November 18, 2018
Michael Thomas added four catches for 92 yards, and his performance yesterday made him the first receiver ever in the team’s very colorful history to surpass 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first three seasons.
Not to be outdone: the Saints’ running game had a solid performance as well, as the aggressive Ingram rushed 16 times for 103 yards, including touchdown runs from 14 and 1 yard out, respectively. Second-year running back Alvin Kamara added 71 yards as New Orleans scored at least 40 points or more for what was the 6th time this season.
Good luck stopping the @Saints offense.
They're the 2nd team in NFL history to score 40+ points in 6 games in a season… and it's only Week 11 😳 pic.twitter.com/mc06P0cppH
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) November 19, 2018
But as far as impressions go, nothing yesterday was more impressive than the overall play of the Saints’ defense.
The Saints’ defensive secondary clearly had their best performance of the season, as they completely shut down 3rd year Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, who had zero touchdowns and was intercepted three times. Wentz finished the day by completing 19 of 33 pass attempts for only 156 yards total, and his 31.9 passer rating was a career-low.
Without question, the Saints defense benefitted from another impressive performance yesterday, which was the ever-improving pass rush from the Saints’ D-Line, which has really come on very strong in recent weeks.
Yesterday the Front 7 registered three sacks, five quarterback hits and seven TFL’s (tackles for losses). Third-year Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins led the charge with his 6th sack of the season, which is his fourth sack in the past five games.
It goes without saying that the Saints might be playing as well as any team in the entire League at the moment, and winning the NFC South Division Championship for a second straight season seems pretty likely at this point.
But the Saints obviously have their sights set on much bigger and better things, and securing home-field advantage throughout the NFL playoffs is certainly one of those goals.
The Saints (as of now) would be the #1 seed in the NFC, pending the Rams’ outcome tonight against Kansas City. A loss by the Rams to the Chiefs would drop the Rams a full game behind New Orleans in the race for home-field.
The Saints still have another six more games remaining, although only one of them is against what would be considered an equally tough team such as themselves when they face the (7-2-1) Pittsburgh Steelers in Week #16.
Up next for the Saints on their remaining schedule is a very quick turnaround this Thursday (Thanksgiving) Night at home in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against their bitter and despised arch-rivals, the (4-6) Atlanta Falcons; who, for all intents and purposes, are done for the year and will be looking to play for pride if nothing else.
For New Orleans however, they’ll be looking for an opportunity to make yet another impression — and one that they hope will last them all the way up to the first Sunday in February…
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist and regularly appears on ESPN Radio New Orleans 100.3 FM “The Sports Hangover Show”. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. You can view his other articles here.