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CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

Perhaps grass can stop Saints offense ... because nothing else can


NEW ORLEANS -- Start the questions. The New Orleans Saints know they are coming. In fact, some already have.

The Saints will spend the next seven days hearing them, answering them, getting tired of them.

All will have the same theme: Can this dome team, a finesse, pass-happy team, go outside on the road against a good defense and win? After blowing out the Detroit Lions 45-28 in an NFC wild-card playoff game Saturday night, the Saints already started hearing about playing next week at San Francisco against the 49ers.

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It's the same argument dome and passing teams have been fighting for years.

But this year is different. This year is the year of the pass -- and this is the NFL's best passing team.

Does it matter?

"I feel like our offense and our team is built for whatever condition," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "We feel like we're the type of team that should be able to go anywhere, anytime, and play our type of football."

Their type of football is the ultimate in aggressive fast-break offense that never lets up.

The Lions got a big dose of it Saturday night. The Saints rolled up a playoff-record 626 yards of offense, Brees threw for 466 yards and the Saints still didn't feel satisfied in the locker room.

That's the secret to the success of the New Orleans Saints offense, always striving for more, always striving to be better.

You would have thought they totaled 250 yards and squeaked out a victory the way they talked. They spoke of missed chances, leaving points, a slow start, sloppy play and a lack of being in synch early on.

You have to love the chutzpah. It's part of what makes this team great. It's certainly what makes them a Super Bowl contender -- again.

CBSSports.com Grades
Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions
A solid effort by Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and the offense was undone by the Lions’ worst tackling effort of the season. The D-line couldn’t create pressure on Drew Brees, exposing weak secondary play. Detroit has proven itself a legitimate 2012 playoff contender, but its defense must improve if it wants to advance in the tournament.
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints
The Saints made some uncharacteristic mistakes early against the Lions with two turnovers and plenty of leaky defense. The leaky defense continued as Calvin Johnson went nuts, but Drew Brees and his cast of offensive weapons went more nuts as the Saints erased the nightmare of last year's Wild Card loss to Seattle.
By Larry Holder
RapidReports Correspondent

"We started a little sluggish," Saints guard Carl Nicks said.

"It took some time to get it going," tight end Jimmy Graham said. Once it did, the Lions had to duck for cover. The Lions actually led 14-10 at the half, but the Saints turned it on in the second half. They rolled up 35 second-half points, 370 yards of offense and turned a close game into a route.

"At times it might look easy," Brees said. "But it's not."

It sure looked easy in the second half. The Saints did what they wanted on offense. They threw it. They ran it. They blocked. They didn't turn it over after fumbling twice in the first half.

"It's a video game," Nicks said. "You have Drew Brees. What can I say? He's a monster."

One that is scary as hell to opposing defenses.

Brees set the NFL record for passing yards this season, but that didn't just carry right on over to the postseason. For a half, the Saints took a while to get things going. Brees was as jumpy as he's been since the Saints lost to the Rams earlier this season.

He took some shots, he had some passes that should have been picked and he lost a fumble in the first half.

"We saw a defense that was very, very patient," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Sometimes that can be frustrating."

With a player as great as Brees and an offensive system as good as the one they have, it's only a matter of time before the thing clicks like it did in the second half.

"I don't see why we can't go on and be productive," Brees said.

Grass. Isn't that the downfall of this offense? They have struggled at times outside away from the dome, but I say this group is built to win anywhere. The Saints played five games outside this season, lost two of them, and had close calls in two others.

The offensive matchup with the 49ers defense will be special in part because of the conditions, but more because of the two units on the field.

It will be force against force.

"It's the ultimate matchup." Graham said. "They've been owning people all year. They have an amazing defense."

The Saints don't, but it helps to have that offense. The Lions rolled up 412 yards and moved up and down the field in the first half.

"It's great that our offense is on our team," corner Tracy Porter said. "They force a team to be one-dimensional. Lighting up the scoreboard the way they do, teams are not going to be running the ball when they're trying to catch up. If San Francisco gets down 21 points, I seriously doubt they are going to pound the ball and let the clock bleed. They are going to try and throw the ball. That's what our offense does. We're getting a label of being a dome team, not being able to play outside. We don't buy it. It's not a factor for us."

It is an issue. Or at least it will be made into one this week.

"Surface or weather or whatever it is, I'm going to come to play," Graham said. "We know what kind of defense they have. We know how hard it is to get a win there. We're going to do all we can to stop them."

It's hard to imagine even a slow track stopping this offense the way it's playing now. Grass. Rain. Snow. Sleet. Outside. Or in a parking lot. Or in an abandoned lot.

The New Orleans Saints are rolling on offense. If the 49ers stop this group, they'll have earned a victory.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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