Brian Allee-Walsh

Bah humbug! Saints hope to put lump of coal in Tampa Bay’s stocking

Saints columnist Brian Allee Walsh
Saints columnist Brian Allee Walsh Biloxi

NEW ORLEANS

Twas the afternoon before Christmas and all through the Dome

Not many Who Dats were present, thousands stayed home

The banners were hung from the rafters with care

A reminder of past years when Da Boys played with flair ...

And while visions of Super Bowl LI likely aren't dancing in Who Dat heads this holiday season, the New Orleans Saints can still "scrooge-up'' the playoff hopes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 3:25 p.m. Saturday inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Buy it will take a total team effort by the Black and Gold, a sight seldom seen this season.

In a quirk of the NFL schedule, the Saints (6-8) and Buccaneers (8-6) will be playing for the second time in two weeks. In Game 1 between the teams, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL., the Bucs' defense cast a net over the Saints offense and quarterback Drew Brees and put up enough points to post a hard-earned 16-11 victory.

Brees struggled mightily, throwing three interceptions, zero touchdown passes and exited with his lowest passer rating of the season (48.5). It marked the fifth time against the Bucs in Brees' stellar 16-year NFL career that he has thrown at least three picks, the 15th time overall.

Credit a Bucs' pass rush that took Brees out of his comfort zone and disrupted the rhythm of the offense. Equally important, Saints' running backs Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower never figured in the outcome, combining for an anemic 45 yards on 13 carries. Saints coach Sean Payton seemed to abandon the ground game altogether, especially in the second half when they ran only five times for 22 yards.

That seemed like a questionable strategy In a game decided by a mere five points.

This came on the heels of a 28-13 loss at home to Detroit, a game in which the Lions led only 19-13 early in the fourth quarter. The Saints ran 12 times for 50 yards. That game mirrored a 16-13 road loss against the New York Giants in Week 2 when the Saints rushed 13 times for 41 yards.

Speed forward to last week when the Saints ran 32 times for 130 yards and amassed 488 yards en route to a 48-34 victory against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ. The Cardinals entered the game with the league's No. 1 defensive unit and exited No. 4.

At times, Payton the playcaller becomes so reliant on Brees that the head coach gives up too early on the running game and makes the Saints' offense one dimensional.

I suspect the Saints will place a greater sense sense of urgency trying to run the ball against the Buccaneers in the rematch,

Look for Ingram to run angry, to bounce back with a vengeance after acting like a petulant child on the sideline in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals. Ingram threw a fit after being removed in favor of Hightower in the shadow of the Cardinals' end zone, then became more agitated when Hightower scored his second touchdown of the quarter moments later.

Look for Ingram to redeem himself and the Saints ground game to impact the outcome Saturday.

Now Peat! now, Unger! now, Evans! and Strief,

On Hightower, on Ingram, deliver some grief

Up the middle, 'round the end with the ball,

Now dash away! dash away! dash away all! ...

... I heard Sean exclaim, ere they ran out of sight,

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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