Stretching the Field: Halos still need mending in New Orleans

( – The Wolf knew Jules and Vincent weren’t in the clear
when the gangsters cleaned up their car in Jimmie’s garage.

The Wolf needed satisfaction before disposing the tainted vehicle at Monster
Joe’s in the plot dubbed The Bonnie Situation during the film “Pulp Fiction.”

Let this be a Hollywood lesson to the New Orleans Saints because it’s not time
to get too excited with recent results. At least not yet.

New Orleans was an attractive pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, but
two straight losses and a 1-3 start to the season proved otherwise. The sky
was falling on the Saints like something out of a Wes Craven film, with hopes
slashed and dreams gashed until life expired as we know it.

It’s Halloween season, so the horror is fitting.

Saints head coach Sean Payton was faced with consternation following a 38-17
loss to the Dallas Cowboys. That dropped his team to 1-3.

“There’s not going to be too much good to see in this film,” Payton said.

Payton was right.

DeMarco Murray ran for 149 yards and two scores, while Tony Romo threw for
three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Saints took off the hockey mask
(Yes, Friday the 13th) with a 37-31 overtime win over rival Tampa Bay, but it
went back on two weeks later following the bye in a 24-23 loss to the Detroit
Lions, a team that could challenge New Orleans for a playoff spot.

But this is the part of the movie, or Saints’ season, when optimism is
inserted in the form of a montage. So keep up and let’s start with last
Sunday’s 44-23 rout of the Green Bay Packers on primetime television at the
Superdome, where Drew Brees recorded 311 passing yards and three touchdowns
and the Saints forced three turnovers.

It was Brees’ fourth straight 300-yard passing game.

“I think the tempo was better today and I think that’s something we’ll
continue to emphasize,” Brees said afterward.

Green Bay is another NFC opponent the Saints could see down the road or jockey
position with. The Saints weren’t supposed to win that game because Aaron
Rodgers and the Packers were riding a four-game winning streak. Rodgers even
threw for 418 yards and was sacked four times by a New Orleans defense
considered below average.

The Saints’ defense has been anything but ordinary the past few weeks.

Enter the NFC South-rival Carolina Panthers on Thursday night. For how ghastly
it is for the league to send two of its teams out on a Thursday, the Saints
took advantage of their second straight nationally televised appearance with a
convincing 28-10 decision on a short week.

Cam Newton and the Panthers should roll in this one with the home crowd in
their corner, right? Wrong. The Panthers faded like ballplayers in the
cornfields of Iowa. (“Field of Dreams” not rated R, but you get the point).

Newton was sacked four times, twice by linebacker Junior Galette, and turned
the ball over twice on a fumble and interception. Carolina’s crowd was muted
much like Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs” with a 14-0 hole at
halftime. New Orleans just continued to feed Mark Ingram, who ran for 100
yards and two scores on 30 carries.

Ingram has rushed for 272 yards and three scores in his last two games and
became the first Saint to record back-to-back 100-yard rushing games since
Deuce McAllister did so in 2006. Maybe the Saints are on to something here
with Ingram, a former Heisman Trophy winner. Dallas is having a good time
riding the legs of Murray to a 6-2 start. Ingram said he never carried the
ball 30 times since high school.

Payton was asked about Ingram’s performance and credited the entire team.

“Look, that’s a group effort, from him, from the guys up front. It was solid,
really good. Complimented some things we’re trying to do,” Payton said. “When
you look at that linebacking group, there’s some players there that make it
very challenging to make positive yards, but we settled in on two or three
schemes that were being the most productive and we ended up making enough
plays in the end we needed.”

The Saints are 2-1 against the NFC South and 4-3 in conference action. They
FINALLY solved their road woes after losing seven straight regular season
games away from the Crescent City.

“We knew we’re a good football team. We knew we had to come out and get this
win to be No. 1 in the division,” Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis said. “If you
look at the games we lost on the road, it was a total of six points in three
games, so we knew it could be done.”

As Saints defensive lineman Cameron Jordan put it on Twitter, he loved the
“Dline feasting.” The defense has posted 11 sacks in the last three games,
including four in each of the previous two. Nose tackle Brandon Deaderick
chimed in, tweeting, “#1 in the division!!!!! We not looking back.”

It’s nothing to brag about being on top of a division with four wins. It could
be worse, however. The Panthers are right behind at 3-5-1 and there’s no
explanation for Atlanta and Tampa Bay except they’re awful.

Let’s face it, the Saints have no choice but to win the NFC South because a
Wild Card berth seems unattainable with most of the conference currently
sporting five or six wins.

New Orleans is 3-0 at the Superdome and has a favorable schedule coming up
with three straight home games versus San Francisco, Cincinnati and Baltimore.
By no means are the 49ers, Bengals or Ravens pushovers, although teams seem to
tense up under the dome lights. Just ask Dick Vermeil in Super Bowl XV.

While the Saints aren’t out of the woods or harm’s way, they are making it
frightening for the rest of the league going forward.