After striking out against the St. Louis Rams last week, the Saints knew they had to swing for the fences against the hated Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a tough, Defensive-oriented team with a talented, young QB and a hammering run game.
So he brought out the bat, literally. Not to hit his players over the head for their atrocious play against the formerly winless Rams, but to motivate the Saints to pound the Bucs on the field. Earlier in the week, Coach Payton put red bats with Tampa Bay’s nickname in every player's locker.
What is a "Bat Game?" Simply stated, it means “Be physical, bring the wood and hit somebody,’’ explained MLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar who replaced an injured Jonathan Vilma in the lineup.
“The whole philosophy behind a bat game is: It’s going to be a physical, physical game,’’ QB Drew Brees said after the game. “You’re not going to look at the scoreboard. All you’re going to do is think about winning the physical battle, and if you can outhit the opponent, you win the game."
It's not the first time Coach Payton has called upon one of his favorite motivational tricks for big games. In the '09 season's NFC Divisional Playoff round against the Arizona Cardinals, directionally-challenged former Saint RB Reggie Bush ran out the tunnel onto the field carrying a black and gold bat like the Olympic torch.
"We save these for special occasions. Typically, we don’t do it for a division opponent," Brees said yesterday. "You can say they’re all physical and important and all those things. But, maybe in light of where we are in the season and what happened a few weeks ago at their place, (coach Sean Payton) felt like it was appropriate.’’
The Saints held a half-game lead over the Bucs going into the matchup, after losing their first contest Oct. 16. With another NFC South game on the horizon next Sunday against arch-rival Atlanta Falcan'ts--I mean Falcons--who loom one game behind in the divisional standings, the Saints couldn't afford to lose. So out came the bats.
Often described as a "finesse" team, the Saints played Old-School, smash-mouth football against the Bucs led by a balanced Offensive attack. The three running back set of Chris Ivory, Pierre Thomas, and Darren Sproles rushed for a combined 195 yards thanks to vastly improved blocking after racking up a season-low 56 yards in the Ram debacle. The rarely mobile Brees ran for 20 yards, causing Saints fans' hearts to skip a beat as he slid helmet first at the end. Sharply and deservedly criticized this week for allowing Ram defenders to bat Brees around like a cat toy last week with six sacks, the Saint Offensive Line kept an aggressive Bucs D off Brees all day with zero sacks.
Without fending off would-be sackers, Brees was back to his usual stellar form passing for 258 yards and TDs to Lance Moore and Darren Sproles. Brees now ties Brett Favre for the 2nd longest TD streak in NFL history with a TD in 36 straight games (Johnny Unitas holds the record with a TD in 47 straight games.) Passing for 27/36, Brees extends his NFL record of 20-plus completions to his 29th consecutive game. With 3,0004 yards, the NFL's leading passer became the 1st NFL QB to throw for over 3,000 yards in the 1st nine games of the season. With his Week 9 performance, Brees moves up in NFL All-Time Records ranking 13th for career passing yards, 12th in career TDs, and 10th for career completions
Brees consistently stresses he's more concerned with winning games than setting records. Spreading the wealth to multiple targets has been a crucial component of Saint victories in the Payton/Brees era. Yesterday, Brees hit eight different receivers, including six for 78 yards to TE Jimmy Graham.
“I thought we found a great balance,’’ Brees said. “When you look at our productivity when we’re running well, it’s through the roof."
A ten-yard TD run by Darren Sproles was called back with 1:54 left in the 4th Quarter on a B.S. Offensive Holding penalty called on WR Devery Henderson. The drive ended in a 34-yard Field Goal by John Kasay.
Despite the absences of an injured MLB Vilma and CB Tracy Porter who suffered a neck injury in the 1st Quarter, the Saints' Defense held the Bucs to three Field Goals until their only TD with 5:33 left in the game on Josh Freeman's TD pass to Kellen Winslow. After being gouged by Steven Jackson last week, the Saints D contained the Bucs' run game to 84 yards on 20 carries. Bucs' RB LeGarrette Blount started hot but finished cold after the Saints stopped him on 4th-and-1 on the Saints' 29 yardline in the 1st Quarter, topped off by S Roman Harper stripping the ball. Blount finished the day with 72 yards on 13 carries, but drew a costly face-mask penalty for a slap on DE Will Smith that stalled the Bucs' drive and forced them to settle for a Field Goal.
Coach Payton said this was the first time the Saints ever played a divisional “Bat Game." In a post-game locker room interview, a reporter asked Saints WR Lance Moore why don't the Saints take out the bats every game?
“I don’t think there’s enough room for all those bats,’’ Moore laughed.
No word on whether the bats had the team's official nickname (Bucs) or one of many colorfully derogatory terms Saints fans use for their NFC South foe (none of which are fit to print.)
Next week, the 6-3 Saints meet the miserable 5-3 Failcons in the always easy-to-empty Georgia Dome. The Bucs go home to lick their wounds against the Texans next Sunday. Go Texans!