Just imagine: who would have ever thought just a few short weeks ago that after an 0-2 start, the New Orleans Saints would have gone on to win 6 straight games in a row?
The answer is probably not a whole lot of people, perhaps with the exception of the Saints themselves.
With their dominant 30-10 victory of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier today at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Saints maintained their 1st Place overall standing on top of the NFC South Division, and are crossing over into some pretty special company thanks to their unexpected winning streak.
With the victory, the Saints became only the 3rd team in the current "Super Bowl Era" (starting in 1967) to win a 6th consecutive game after having lost their first 2 games to begin a season. The other two teams that have done it —the 1993 Dallas Cowboys and the 2007 New York Giants — both went on to win the Super Bowl.
Saints can become the 3rd team in the Super Bowl era to win 6 straight games immediately following 0-2 start (1993 Cowboys, 2007 Giants)
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 5, 2017
We probably don't have to tell you that's some pretty good "karma" for the Saints to be associated with, at this point.
The Saints improved their overall record to (6-2), and along the way helped head coach Sean Payton pick up his 100th regular-season win, the 41st head coach in NFL history to accomplish that feat.
Additionally: if the season ended today, the Saints would be the #2 seed in the NFC Playoffs; and would have a 1st Round bye.
The Saints currently are the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncan_) November 6, 2017
New Orleans will now will travel to Buffalo, New York next week for an inter-conference showdown with one of the AFC's biggest surprise teams, the (5-3) Buffalo Bills; which will take place at their home stadium, the always-tough venue of New Era Field.
With that in mind, let's first have a look back at the Saints News Network's 5 biggest "winners and losers" from today's impressive win for the 1st place, NFC South division-leading New Orleans Saints, over the fast-sinking Tampa Bay Buccaneers.......
THE BIGGEST LOSERS
5. TERRON ARMSTEAD, LEFT TACKLE
This is nit-picking, but Armstead spent a majority of the game shuffling in and out of the line-up, and even though his injury issues (chest) don't appear to be anything that will hinder his ability to play, it is obvious that he's "playing hurt" and probably needs some extensive time off to properly heal.
But with the Saints obviously in a Playoff race now (yes, we can start mentioning the word "Playoffs"), it's pretty unlikely that we'll see them shut Armstead down for the remainder of the season. He's scheduled to have an MRI on his chest in the morning.
The more likely scenario is that we'll see more of them limiting his snaps going forward, while hoping he can still contribute enough to have a positive impact.
4. KENNY VACCARO, SAFETY
Again, we're nitpicking this week; because since the Saints did have a solid performance overall (although it wasn't "perfect"), we look for anything that impacted the team negatively; which clearly Vaccaro's injury does for certain.
Vaccaro missed the 2nd half after he pulled a groin muscle, and his status going forward will be determined later in the coming week.
If Vaccaro is forced to miss any game action beginning with the game at Buffalo next Sunday, then it will be the entire Saints defense who are "losers", given how outstanding Vaccaro has been thus far in the first half of the regular season.
3. KEN CRAWLEY, CORNERBACK
After we just spent the past few days praising him following our article abut him the other day (click HERE to read), Crawley of course then went out in this game and gave us a reason to put him back on the "losers" list (once again): which was when he got called for a pass interference penalty that eventually set up a Buccaneers field goal.
However, that one play aside?
Crawley still actually played well enough to have made our biggest "winners" list, especially after he was able to essentially lock down Buccaneers veteran WR DeSean Jackson (2 catches, 16 yards) despite being "picked on" by Tampa QB Jameis Winston for a majority of the 1st half.
Pro Football Focus had him listed as the 2nd best CB performance out of ALL of today's games, 2nd only to his teammate Marshon Lattimore (more on him coming up).
2. WILLIE SNEAD, WIDE RECEIVER
Let's be clear, just so there's no confusion: when we put a player on the "loser" list, we're NOT saying that they are "losers" in life, but rather are "losers" in the sense that their impact upon the team is a NEGATIVE one.
Snead was on this list last week because of his limited contributions to the team since coming off of suspension for the first 3 games of the season; and today he makes it again for that reason; along with the fact that he muffed a punt in the 4th quarter that was recovered by the Buccaneers, leading to their only TD of the entire game.
Willie Snead isn't in Payton's dog house, he's a body buried in the back yard.
— Ralph Malbrough (@SaintsForecast) November 5, 2017
For Snead, it's been a rough few weeks since returning to the team; and fans as well as observers and writers / analysts that cover the team are hoping that things will eventually get better for him with regard to his future, going forward.
1. THE SAINTS SPECIAL TEAMS
Despite the blocked punt for a TD by special teams "ace" Justin Hardee, the Saints special teams were actually anything BUT special.
Wil Lutz (AGAIN) had anther extra point blocked, and then injured himself (but he later returned) along with missing a 43-yard field-goal attempt in the 4th quarter.
Then there was Ted Ginn Jr., who once again looked great as a WR but continues to struggle on special teams. Ginn threw an ill-advised sideways lateral that one-hopped across the field to Tommylee Lewis on a trick play attempt during a kickoff return, but Lewis went nowhere.
And Ginn also muffed a punt early in the 1st half, which was the whole reason why Snead was in the game (as mentioned right above) to start with.
The Saints MUST get these special teams issues fixed, or else it WILL come back to haunt them at some point.
THE BIGGEST WINNERS
5. COBY FLEENER, TIGHT END
Finally, we get to put Coby Fleener on the "winners" list.
To borrow the phrase from the current popular Bud Light beer commercial airing on TV: "Dilly, dilly".
Fleener, who we've been very critical of so far this season for his very notable lack of impact upon the Saints offense; came up with a series of big catches in the 1st half.
He hauled in a 33-yard reception to set up an Alvin Kamara TD reception right before the half (more on that coming up in a minute), and also managed to make a spectacular grab along the sideline to pick up a first down on a play where Brees almost got destroyed on the hit afterwards.
Fleener finished with 46 yards, which isn't going to blow anybody away, by any stretch.
But HEY: he finally did something!
4. MARSHON LATTIMORE, CORNERBACK
We sound like a broken record each and every week with our descriptions of the the impact that this kid is having on the team's overall success, so we'll keep it short and simple.
Lattimore in today's game held Bucs superstar WR Mike Evans to one catch for 13 yards. And THAT WAS IT.
Lattimore - 2 Evans - 0 pic.twitter.com/lpR7NZeD0o
— Brenden Ertle (@BrendenE_Saints) November 5, 2017
But what was more memorable in this game of course was when Lattimore got blindsided by Evans from behind, while he was engaged in a confrontation with Winston.
That ended up starting a near "WWE-like" brawl that even had Sean Payton sprinting all the way across the field to give officials a piece of his mind. Evans received a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and certainly will be heavily fined by the NFL this week.
But more impressive was how the young Saints future superstar managed to keep his cool — and made Tampa's star veterans look more like the actual 'rookies'.
3. DREW BREES, QUARTERBACK
That was the QBR for the ever-reliable Brees in this contest, as he completed 22 out of 27 passes for 263 yards and 2 TD's. But his numbers would have been even better, had he not missed a certain TD pass late in the 1st quarter to Ted Ginn, Jr.
They did manage to hook up later on a 36-yard TD strike in the 3rd quarter, to help Brees cap off yet another solid performance as the team continues to roll right along under the leadership of the ageless wonder and future Hall-of-Famer.
2. ALEX OKAFOR, DEFENSIVE END
It's about high time that we give Okafor some long overdue "love" for the constant and consistent impact that he's made upon the Saints pass rush since coming to the team this year in Free Agency, and it was never more evident then in today's contest.
Okafor harassed Winston in the pocket time and time again, while laying the "smackdown" on the young and cocky Bucs passer with every chance that he got.
He also played very well defending the run; and so far with the season now halfway over, has proven to be one of the best Saints Free Agent investments in recent memory.
1. ALVIN KAMARA, RUNNING BACK
Kamara was actually looking like he might make our biggest "losers" list, after he fumbled the ball in the 2nd quarter that killed a Saints drive that seemingly was headed for a TD.
But the sensational rookie made up for it VERY quickly, when he deftly manuevered his way for a 33-yard catch-and-run TD down the Saints sideline that broke the game wide open.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) November 5, 2017
Kamara made three — count them, 3 — defenders miss on his way into the end zone, which led Sean Payton to run down to the end zone to celebrate WITH him.
It was yet another highlight-reel performance for the sensational rookie from the University of Tennessee, who finished with 6 catches for 84 yards and 10 carries for 68 yards rushing (152 total yards and 2 TD's)..........