by Bert Bartlett
Though Sean Payton and his staff didn’t need the help, perhaps New Orleans’ locker room had Fox’s and Loozyanna’s Terry Bradshaw piped into it on a video screen. About 10 minutes before kickoff, Bradshaw went on a lecture, sermon, or whatever you want to call it, about how the Saints needed to throw the ball down the field and play aggressive, opportunistic defense. ‘Dis was true, and a quick hitting, underneath running game, completed the equation, as did the kind of fun Heath Evans had, after rumbling into the end zone with a swing pass and spiking the ball like an offensive lineman. Dr. Bradshaw!
A miserly loss to the Cards, followed by a blowout of the weak Bucs in Week 6, hardly makes anyone’s NFL season. However, the Saints display in Tampa was reassuring in that fans of the team were treated to the same type that went on a double digit winning streak a year ago. There was evidence that this team, for the first complete time in a still early ’10, can still do what they do – best. This page has freedom of the press rights, too, so we’ll go out on the left wing and just say the Saints had a 9 game pre-season, and the regular one didn’t start until Sunday. Or we could really cavort in the air, and say they are providing the plot for a new book, A Tale Of Two Seasons, A Siesta And Another Super Bowl.
Everyone here has been bemoaning the injury losses of Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. All the while, Chris Ivory kept his nose to the grindstone, tried not to fumble, and kept running. He had some upside in improving with more real time. The result the other day was a spectacular, ten plus yards a carry average. Ivory has an urgent, physical, nasty mentality to his vertical running style that is just what the doctor ordered for this team right now. The Stones Of The Saints may have been motivated by him, too, as the holes to run through were as wide as a Harley Davidson, plus an attached sidecar. Coach Payton’s new, welcome dilemma may be how to keep him involved enough as the others return. Good for him – Ivory is a Saint!
As per other seeds of youth, cornerback Patrick Robinson does resemble a young Mike McKenzie for reasons other than his number 34 and the locks streaming out of the back of his helmet. This kid is not out of position much, has ball skills, and most encouragingly, may be more aggressive than his elder in not being hesitant to put his hat down – on somebody else. Tight end Jimmy Graham made some errors as youngsters are prone to do, but has obvious, wing span receiving range for the position, which Coach Payton likes to have in his scheme of things.
It was surprising that the young underdog Bucs were as flat as they were at home on Sunday. But no matter, the better team won, never allowing the hosts to really even be in the game. The only close contest was which team would miss the most field goals. Only a fourth down converted pass prevented a shutout, and ‘dat is no small accomplishment in this league. The Saints got out there and, hopefully not with the same fate as the Titanic, stretched their legs a little.
Any semi-traditionalist NFL fan has to have some affinity for the Cleveland Browns. In fact, when they upset the heavily favored Baltimore Colts, 27-0 for the title back in 1964, it was the writer’s first recollection of a televised pro game (Zenith, black and white console). Thing is, their star running back Jim Brown, if I can recall, was hardly a factor in it. Quarterback Frank Ryan (who actually was or turned into a doctor) and receiver Gary Collins sliced and diced the Colts, like Cleveland should have been heavily favored. Strange game, again, if I can recall……
When then owner Art Modell finally took the Browns and turned them into the Baltimore Ravens in 1996, in a deal laden with gold, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue made league precedent, insisting that the simple but attractive logo stay in town, in the assumption that a new franchise would return (in part to appease the mass deserted). It did, in 1999, and Cleveland’s infamous Dog Pound has since been waiting for the Browns to be any good. Tagliabue’s efforts were important to that city, like his here in New Orleans, when it loomed that the Saints may have to leave post-Katrina. The more time that has gone by, history may show that “Tags” may have been the last fan friendly commissioner (as much as possible) in the league, as the job has evolved into a corporate homogenization of contract negotiating, lawyering, and public relations. The Browns, the improving Detroit Lions, and the Saints are a troika of Soul Brothers, in that they represent hopes of urban renewal from decay. Pittsburgh, next week’s opponent, used to be in that number, until Dr. Bradshaw, et al, started winning all those Super Bowls.
With only one win, this is not the Browns’ year, though they have played most teams close (common when good teams fail to get excited about playing bad ones). They may start a rookie at quarterback instead of ex-Saint Jake Delhomme, the accomplished and aptly named former Texas Longhorn, Colt McCoy. Joshua Cribbs has returned kicks all the way to China, but suffered what appeared to be a bad concussion on Sunday, in a loss to the Steelers. The departed Scott Fujita, still well liked and having some of his heart in New Orleans, returns to the Superdome in an attempt to anchor whatever it is they have on defense (can’t say he is unfamiliar with what the Saints like to do). Sentimentally, Sean Payton’s first team in ’06 opened the season with a win over the Browns. Repeat!
Head coach Eric Mangini has not won over the fans in Cleveland, as his record has been poor since his arrival, nor did he win over many players when he first got there with lots of new conduct rules that were criticized as small time. His image is one of these His Way Or The Highway types. Fortunately, his bad nickname from when he was with the Jets, Mangenius, has mostly worn off, except in critical irony. He needs to show his team is on the upswing in the near future, or he will likely know the directions to and be given a map to the interstate. General Manager Mike Holmgren came over this year after a brief retirement from coaching, and his ego has been quoted to effectively take up most of the square footage in a given room, thus his own nickname, The Big Show. Together, one wonders if they have knocked some heads other than their players’, and if the NFL Network is considering Mangenius and The Big Show for a reprise of The Odd Couple.
But Bucs, Browns, whomever, it really is mostly about how the Saints handle themselves more than their opponents at this point. Yet the Black & Gold does look familiar again. Game On (er, Season).