The Saints' miraculous defensive turnaround might've lasted only one season, but if Monday night is any indication, they might not need a dominant defense to be a dangerous playoff team. That's how prolific, explosive, and historic this Saints offense is now that it's finally at full strength.
Drew Brees is . Mark Ingram is back and scoring goal-line touchdowns. Michael Thomas is in the top tier of NFL wide receivers. Alvin Kamara is still Alvin Kamara, probably the most dangerous running back in open space. Add in Taysom Hill's versatility on third downs and in the red zone, Ted Ginn and/or Tre'Quan Smith's verticality, and Cameron Meredith's reliable hands, and they might have a Super Bowl caliber roster without even factoring in the other side of the ball.
Who needs a defense when you have all of that offense?
On Monday night, the Saints welcomed the Redskins into the Superdome in New Orleans and proceeded to annihilate them. The final score? 43-19.
Late in the third quarter, the Saints led 40-13. Ignore what happened after that, because it was all pointless garbage time. From that point on, the only question was if the Saints would give Brees the opportunity to throw his 500th career touchdown pass (they didn't) -- that and if Teddy Bridgewater would see the field (he did, very briefly).
The Saints are now 4-1, with their only loss coming in a Week 1 result that can be chalked up to the very real and very scary phenomenon known as FitzMagic. The Redskins, on the other hand, are 2-2, but still in contention due to the poor state of the NFC East.
We'll get to the Redskins and the NFC East in a bit. First, we need to talk about the Saints, because they're beginning to look like the team we thought they'd be after they came a Hail Mary away from reaching the NFC title game a year ago.
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Brees, who broke Peyton Manning's passing yards record in the first half, threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns for a nearly perfect 153.2 passer rating. Ingram, in his return, scored two touchdowns. Thomas caught four passes for 74 yards in what should be considered a down game. Hill trucked a linebacker on a third-down conversion and scored a red-zone touchdown.
Think accounting for Thomas, Ingram, and Kamara is tough enough? Guard this:
This was utter domination by a Saints offense operating at its peak. They totaled 450 yards on offense before their final kneel downs, racking up 27 first downs, and generating big play after big play. It says something that Thomas felt like an afterthought on Monday night, and he still tallied 74 yards. It also says something that Kamara was an afterthought, and the Saints still did whatever they wanted to the Redskins.
And about that defense. It actually held up, doing well to hold the Redskins to field goals and generating big turnovers. One of the touchdowns they allowed came after a fumble that placed the Redskins deep in Saints territory. Their pass rush bothered Alex Smith at times, with Cameron Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, and rookie Marcus Davenport all notching a sack.
And they nearly scored a touchdown of their own.
A week ago, the Saints held the Giants to 18 points, but we characterized that successful outing as more about the Giants' offense and less about the Saints' defense. They pitched another strong game on Monday night. Maybe, just maybe, the Saints' defense is morphing back into the monster it was a year ago?
This is more like the version of the Saints that we fell in love with a year ago, which is why so many of us (like me) picked them to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl at the beginning of the season. Is the defense still a concern? Of course. But if the defense can continue to improve over the course of the season and become just a solid unit by the end of the season, the Saints, with this offense, will be a team nobody will want to face come January.
The Saints might not be as stacked on both sides of the ball as, say, the Rams, but they'll enter almost every playoff game with the better of the two quarterbacks -- one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. That matters.
On that note ...
Brees' record-breaking night
Brees entered the game with a chance to break Peyton Manning's record for the most passing yards in NFL history. With 71,740 passing yards before the game, Brees needed 99 to pass Brett Favre for second and 201 to pass Manning for first. He needed less than a half to break the record.
Brees passed Favre early in the second quarter. Before halftime, he broke the record in just about the perfect way, throwing a 62-yard touchdown pass.
The NFL hit pause on the game as Brees' teammates stormed the field before he headed to the sideline to be with his family.
The ball is off to Canton.
And Manning's reign is over.
This isn't the only record Brees holds, by the way.
- Most consecutive games with a Pass TD (54)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 9, 2018
- Most career completions
Adding to his excellent start to the season, Brees finished 26 of 29 for 363 yards, three touchdowns, no picks, and a 153.2 passer rating against a defense that came into the game ranked third against the pass by DVOA. Yes, you read that right: Brees threw as many touchdowns as incompletions.
It's borderline criminal he's never won MVP. Remarkably enough, even after this start to the year, he's still an afterthought in the MVP conversation with guys like Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff leading the way.
Brees deserves consideration.
The NFC East is rotten
The NFC East throne is there for the taking. The Kingsroad is wide and open, devoid of threats as teams like the Giants, Eagles, and Cowboys bumble around aimlessly. A win on Monday night would've cemented the Redskins' status as favorites in the division. Instead, it cemented the NFC East's status as a truly bad division lacking one good team.
The Giants are a mess. The Cowboys are inept offensively. The Eagles look nothing like a Super Bowl champion. The NFC East is anybody's division. Before Monday night, only the Redskins looked remotely interested in winning the division. Perhaps their 2-1 start was a mirage.
After all, consider what they did before the season and ask yourself, what would make you consider them a contender?
They traded a quality corner, let their QB walk for a dude 4 years older and then gave him $27M a year when they could've rented him cheap for a year and brandished the tag again if need be. That's a Bruce Allen and Dan Snyder production for you. Best of luck.— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) October 9, 2018
Smith wasn't awful in the first half, but he wasn't good. He was, however, awful in the second half. You already saw that near pick-six above. Check out his fumble later in the third quarter. Also note that it was Davenport who forced the turnover. The Saints paid a hefty price to draft him, but if he ends up being the next great NFL pass rusher, that price will have been worth it.
Smith finished 23 of 39 for 275 yards, no touchdowns, one pick, and a 69.9 passer rating. He rushed for a touchdown late in the first half, but even at that point, a comeback seemed far-fetched.
Nobody should overreact to this performance. Smith's been an NFL quarterback for long enough that we know he's usually better than this, and there's a good chance he'll continue to be a good, not great, quarterback for the remainder of the season. He's just not good enough to hang with Brees when Brees is at his best.
Now, that last bit is concerning considering to win in the playoffs, teams usually have to beat the Brees, Bradys, and Rodgers of the NFL, and Smith never was able to beat those kinds of quarterbacks in the playoffs during his otherwise successful run in Kansas City.
Just as concerning -- if not more concerning -- was their defense.
Sloppy Redskins' defense helps Brees
The Saints' offense is already close to unstoppable. They don't need help, but that's what the Redskins decided to do, gifting the Saints their first 13 points via penalties.
On the Redskins' first defensive series, they thought they forced a stop, but on third down, Josh Norman got called for holding in the secondary. Four plays later, the Saints got the scoring started with an Ingram touchdown run (they missed the extra point, however).
On the Redskins' second defensive series, they thought they forced another stop by sacking Brees, but Montae Nicholson shoved Ingram after the play, resulting in a 15-yard penalty that gave the Saints a fresh set of downs. On that same series, the Redskins got called for holding in the end zone, which preceded the Saints' second touchdown that pushed the lead to 13-0.
Giving Brees second chances via penalties is an easy way to lose NFL games.
Penalties alone weren't the only reason why the Redskins got rocked on defense. Another issue was all the wide-open receivers running downfield. Washington allowed completions of 62, 46, 35, 31, 28, and 23 yards. Related: Brees averaged a toasty 12.5 yard per attempt.
Welcome back, Mark Ingram
Ingram,, returned on Monday night, as if the Saints' offense with Brees, Kamara, and Thomas needed more weapons.
Entering the game, nobody really knew how much the Saints would use him. They already have Kamara rolling. Ingram's been gone for a month. Maybe they'd ease him back in and then get him going after their bye week.
They went with the opposite approach. Ingram got the start and on the Saints' first series, he carried the ball three times for eight yards and caught a screen for 28 yards, which set him up for his two-yard scoring run.
Welcome back, Ingram.
Later, Ingram fumbled after catching a pass but managed to recover the loose football, beating a couple of Redskins defenders who were closer to the ball. The fumble obviously isn't a positive, but recovering the fumble in his own territory was a huge play.
Also a huge play: his second touchdown, which extended their lead to 14 points in the first half.
Last year, only Todd Gurley rushed for more touchdowns than Ingram. He's got a lot of ground to make up after missing the first four games, but considering how explosive this offense is and how eager the Saints are to feature him, don't be surprised if he still finishes somewhere in the upper half of the leaderboard.
Kamara's stock: Down, down, down, down
Let's check in on Kamara's fantasy stock.
During the first four games -- sans Ingram -- Kamara averaged nearly 23 touches per game. On Monday, he collected nine touches for 39 yards.
Don't panic. Maybe the Saints just wanted to give Kamara an extended break after riding him hard during Weeks 1-4. Kamara is too damn good to be featured this infrequently moving forward. But with Ingram back in the picture, Kamara's stock is down, as it should be.
The Saints have two star running backs. They're going to use both of them.
Tre'Quan Smith breaks out
Ted Ginn was inactive with a knee injury, but the Saints still trotted out a big-play receiver. Smith, who caught that record-setting pass from Brees, also exploded for a 35-yard touchdown.
He totaled 111 yards and two scores on only three catches.
Concussion for Marshon Lattimore
Last year'scollided with his own teammate in the first quarter and didn't get back up. After making his way to the sideline, he went into the medical tent. Later in the first quarter, he made his way back to the locker room to be evaluated for a concussion. He didn't return.
Lattimore, who was in key in the Saints' defensive resurgence a year ago, hasn't been able to match his production from his rookie year, but if the Saints are going to improve defensively, they'll need him on the field and healthy.
The good news is that they don't play next week, giving Lattimore plenty of time to recover.
Not much for the Saints, who'll enjoy their Week 6 bye week before a difficult stretch of games against the Ravens, Vikings, Rams, Bengals and Eagles -- five teams that fancy themselves as playoff teams.
As for the Redskins, they get the Panthers and Cowboys before heading to New York to face the Giants. That's a favorable stretch of games during which they need to grab at least two wins if they're serious about winning the division.
You'll find our live-blog from the game below.