New Orleans Saints provide no relief for winless Detroit Lions

Posted by Teddy Kider, The Times-Picayune December 21, 2008 11:04PM

DETROIT — For the Saints, Sunday was billed as a potentially momentous letdown. They were out of the playoff hunt for the first time under their current coach and quarterback, and the Detroit Lions, trying to avoid the worst NFL season ever, had seemingly been creeping closer to a win.

The Saints, however, made it very clear early on they would steer clear of embarrassment.

New Orleans won its easiest matchup of the season 42-7 against Detroit at Ford Field, and the Lions became the first team in NFL history to start a season 0-15.

The Saints moved to 8-7, with the season finale at home against the Carolina Panthers coming up next week, and Saints Coach Sean Payton stressed what he thought still was at stake.

“We want to finish 9-7,” Payton said. “That’s important. It’s important as it relates to next season. It’s important for our team. And I’m sure, if you ask Drew Brees, it’s important to him.”

Brees agreed, after leading the NFL’s No.¤1-ranked offense to an efficient performance. The Saints scored touchdowns on their first six drives, and didn’t give up the ball up without scoring until the fourth quarter. They went 11-for-11 on third down until kneeling on the final play, tied a team record with 32 first downs, and didn’t punt.

And on a day when many eyes were focused on Brees and his potentially record-breaking season, the Saints’ running game was at its best. All four of the Saints’ first-half scores were rushing touchdowns, and they came from four players — running backs Pierre Thomas, Deuce McAllister and Mike Bell, plus receiver Robert Meachem.

The Saints finished with 181 rushing yards, 112 of them from the first half, and Thomas — 13 carries for 77 yards — and McAllister — nine carries for 61 yards — led the way. McAllister’s effort pushed him past 6,000 yards rushing for his career. He has 6,056.

“Going into this game, we felt positive,” said Thomas, who also had three receptions for 26 yards. “We felt like we could go out here and take it to them, we’ve just got to stay focused.”

Brees completed 30 of 40 passes for 351 yards, two touchdowns — both to Marques Colston — and no interceptions, finishing with new single-season franchise records for passing yards (4,683) and passing touchdowns (30).

The main record Brees has been chasing all season — 5,084 passing yards in one season, set by Dan Marino in 1984 — still is within reach, but Brees will need quite a game against Carolina. He heads into the final week of the season needing 402 passing yards to break the record.

Even with Sunday’s score out of hand before the midway point of the third quarter, Brees continued to play. Payton said he was “a little conflicted” about how to handle the record and Sunday’s blowout, noting the Saints did not have too many snaps in the fourth quarter.

“I thought we handled that part of it well in really just playing the game the way we’re supposed to, and that’s to win and to attack the defense the way we see best fit to score,” Payton said. “And those things happened today.”

With no shot at a postseason berth, Payton used a few plays and players that might not have made it into any other game. Skyler Green, the former LSU receiver who has spent most of 2008 on the Saints’ practice squad, was activated before the game and used on kickoff and punt returns.

Green had a 60-yard return on the opening kickoff, and the drive ended with a 20-yard touchdown run from Meachem, who has rarely been used, on an end-around. The Saints led 14-0 after the first quarter and never trailed.

“In the games that they’ve played real well this year, they’ve gone ahead of teams,” Payton said about the Lions, who lost to Indianapolis by 10 points the previous week and Minnesota by four points before that. “And last week they got off to a good start. So we talked a lot about starting well. I thought offensively, when we won the toss, we had a good series of plays, a good drive.”

The Saints’ defense gave up 255 yards and forced two interceptions. The Lions’ lone touchdown was on a running play in the second quarter. It was set up when Saints safety Roman Harper was called for pass interference on fourth-and-goal.

Brees joked that taking a knee on three plays at the end of the game killed his team’s average of converting on third down, but he also seriously addressed a relatively new experience for him — winning without playoff implications.

“Maybe one other time in my career I’ve been in this situation, where you’re not playing for anything right at the end of the season,” Brees said. “So it’s frustrating. But we have a lot of highly motivated, self-motivated guys on our team. And we’re playing for a lot. We’re playing for each other. And we’re playing to finish the season the right way, with pride, and this is what we’re paid to do.”

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