Saints show different side

Published 4:21 am Wednesday, September 30, 2009


AP Sports Writer

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Put aside the video game-like numbers Sean Payton and Drew Brees have teamed up to produce in one of the most prolific coach-quarterback relationships in the NFL.

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The scariest thing about the 2009 Saints may be the way they proved they could win at Buffalo last weekend — with dominant defense and a relentless running game.

By holding Brees to his quietest performance in more than a year, the Bills managed to provide the Saints’ offense a chance to show they could win with a blue-collar approach.

“You’ve got to prove who you are,” right tackle Jon Stinchomb said. “You can’t just say, ’Well, we’ve worked on our run game and now we’re more of a balanced team.’ You have to go out there on Sundays and create your identity, and I think this is one of those games where we’re trying to prove we’re not a finesse team.”

Seeing that Buffalo was intent on pulling out all the stops to disrupt the passing game, Payton consulted his offensive line to see what adjustments they had in mind.

“Coach he asked us what we wanted to run and we told him we felt like we could run the ball,” center Jonathan Goodwin said. “He dialed up run plays and we were able to succeed.”

Succeed might be an understatement. The Saints piled up 222 yards rushing and scored all three of their touchdowns on the ground, despite the absence of Mike Bell, the Saints’ leading rusher through the first two games.

Pierre Thomas, fighting through the lingering effects of a virus that had him vomiting last weekend, ran for 126 yards and two touchdowns in his first significant action since returning from a right knee sprain that occurred about half way through preseason. Reggie Bush added 64 yards on 13 carries, with some of his best inside rushes this season, and Lynell Hamilton powered in for a short touchdown in the first half.

Those are all promising signs for the Saints (3-0) as they now prepare to host the unbeaten New York Jets and coach Rex Ryan’s punishing defense next Sunday.

“It shows we’re a balanced team,” Thomas said. “If the passing game is not going well, you’ve got the run game. … That’s what we’ve been trying to establish. The run game definitely stepped it up. We’re happy about that. I think the offensive line did a heck of a job.”

The timeliness of the running game’s emergence was impeccable. Brees had thrown for 669 yards and nine touchdowns as the Saints put up 93 points combined in their first two victories. At Buffalo, the Saints quarterback had no TD tosses and saw his streak of 200-plus-yard passing performances end at 22 games. Yet the Saints still won convincingly, 27-7.

Meanwhile, the only points the Saints allowed came on a fake field goal in the first half. From then on, it was lights out as receiver Terrell Owens went without a reception for the first time since his rookie season in 1996.

Owens was covered primarily by new Saints cornerback — and former Bill — Jabari Greer, part of a defensive overhaul that began with the hiring of new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams shortly after last season ended with the Saints 8-8 and out of the playoffs.

“Defensively, I thought we played real smart and as the game wore on, we got better and better and you could see that when you watched the game in person and you could certainly see it on film,” Payton said. “Up front we won that battle in the trenches. We hit the quarterback a lot and hurried him a lot and I think that was important.”

Greer also helped stall one of Buffalo’s most promising scoring drives when he tipped away a pass intended for Owens, resulting in defensive end Will Smith’s interception.

Greer heard all about how the Saints’ defense had been the team’s Achilles’ heel the past two season, but he hasn’t seen evidence of that on the field since his arrival this year.

“We’ve done a good job of creating a culture … making sure we’re putting the things together to be successful, realizing that it takes hard work, and all these guys are willing to put in the extra time,” Greer said. “We’re hungry, man. We’re hungry to be a defense that is a direct complement to our offense.”