Brian Allee-Walsh

After Ryan Fitzpatrick lit up the Saints, can Browns QB Tyrod Taylor follow suit?

Garbage yards, many of them, anyway.

Oh, it was fun to watch — New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees slinging the ball around the yard in a 48-40 loss to Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, dual threat Alvin Kamara proving harder to tackle than greased lightning and wide receiver Michael Thomas roaming free and moving the chains.

Brees played brilliantly, Kamara killed it and Thomas totally dominated.

But that’s no way to go through a 16-game NFL season, not when your defense won’t lend a helping hand, not when you want to seriously challenge for the Lombardi Trophy, not when you ask your 40-ish quarterback to drop back 40 to 50 times a game.

We saw what happened in 2012 and 2014- through 2016 when Brees and company, though prolific in terms of producing points and yards, had to shoulder the burden when the defense failed to show up week after week after week.

Does 7-9 and missing the playoffs ring a bell?

Game 1 against Tampa Bay was a sharp reminder of what happens when the Saints are placed in catch-up mode and forced to rely solely on the grit and wits of No. 9, who valiantly tried to rally his team from a 48-24 hole early in the fourth quarter.

Brees put up monster numbers — 37 of 45, 439 yards, three TDs, no INTs and a stellar 129.5 passer rating. But Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick captured the day, going 21 of 28 for 417 yards, four TDs, no INTs and a near-perfect 156.2 rating.

I suspect the Cleveland Browns will need similar heroics Sunday from journeyman quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who helped engineer a season-opening tie in OT against the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, he proved no match in a starting role with the Buffalo Bills against the visiting Saints last season, getting yanked in the fourth quarter of a 47-10 loss.

If Taylor struggles against what should be a revved-up, extremely focused Saints defense, Browns coach Hue Jackson might consider inserting rookie backup Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 overall draft pick in April.

But this game isn’t about the lowly Browns (1-31-1 under Jackson). It’s about the Saints defense getting its act together. Brees shouldn’t have to put himself in harm’s way with 40 to 50 dropbacks. Saints officials have assembled a quality roster around him so he shouldn’t have to produce mega-yardage games.

Last season, Brees didn’t register one 400-yard game. He didn’t have to, not with Boom & Zoom running backs Mark Ingram and Kamara and wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Thomas sharing touches and inflicting damage.

Know this: The Saints are 8-8 in games when Brees throws for at least 400 yards since coming on the scene in 2006. He had not reached the 400-yard mark since Game 5 of the 2016 season in a 41-38 win against the visiting Carolina Panthers (465).

Until Tampa Bay and FitzMagic showed up.

And the Saints defense didn’t.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.
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