Inside slant: New Orleans Week 9 review

Here's the "Inside Slant," your twice-weekly source for news about the Bucs' NFC South rivals. Today's edition wraps up Week 9's games, including personnel news and exclusive unit grades for the New Orleans Saints, who beat Jacksonville. It's a premium service from Bucsblitz.com.

The Saints lit up the scoreboard in Sunday's 41-24 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, piling up a season-high 538 total yards on offense behind Drew Brees' 445 passing yards and three touchdowns.

But if you think it was all offense, think again. Because their offense has been so productive during their four-game winning streak, everyone thinks they're doing it on that side of the ball.

The defense played an important role in the win over the Jaguars, starting with a run defense that held an opponent under 100 yards for a seventh straight game -- tying the club record that was set in 1991.

The swarming Saints kept Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew in check, limiting the Jaguars to 88 yards on the ground, and came up with a season-high three interceptions and two sacks.

The defense came up with the play that turned the game in the third quarter as the Jaguars were heading toward a possible game-tying touchdown. On fourth-and-4 from the Saints 34, Mike McKenzie intercepted a pass off Quinn Gray and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown.

After forcing the Jaguars into a three-and-out on their next possession, the defense turned things over to the offense -- which produced a touchdown and stretched the lead to 38-17 late in the third quarter.

In flexing their muscles against a team from the more physical AFC, the Saints ended a five-game losing streak against that conference. While the run defense was big, getting more turnovers was a key for the Saints, as Jason David and Jason Craft also came up with interceptions.

The Saints had a league-low six takeaways in their first seven games, but they doubled their interception total of three against the Jaguars.

"It felt good to come in here and create some turnovers at home," David said. "The offense played real well and put us in good position to make some plays."

NOTES, QUOTES

--K Olindo Mare has gotten over the groin pull he suffered in early October, but he still hasn't overcome his erratic kicking.

The Saints' decision to replace the dependable John Carney with Mare last offseason became even less popular with the team's fans in a 41-24 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

Mare, who was acquired from the Miami Dolphins for a sixth-round draft pick, missed field goals of 43 and 52 yards -- only 47 seconds apart late in the first half -- between making kicks of 46 and 34 yards in the first and fourth quarters, respectively.

Mare was booed loudly after both misses. He is now 6-for-12 on the season, but Saints coach Sean Payton said that he has confidence in Mare and won't bring in any kickers for tryouts this week as the team did when Mare was injured.

--QB Drew Brees was sacked once in Sunday's game with the Jaguars, ending a four-game streak in which the Saints did not allow their quarterback to go down.

Brees was dropped by Jaguars DE Paul Spicer with 11:34 remaining in the second quarter. It was the first time Brees had been sacked in 17 quarters, dating to the first play of the fourth quarter against Tennessee on Sept. 24.

Brees, who has been sacked just five times in the first eight games, attempted 194 passes without going down until Spicer got to him.

--When CB Mike McKenzie intercepted a Quinn Gray pass and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown in Sunday's game with the Jaguars, it was a rarity indeed for the Saints.

The touchdown off the interception was the first for the Saints in 63 games, dating to Ashley Ambrose's 73-yard pick and score in a 17-14 win over the Tampa Bay Bucs on Nov. 2, 2003, in Raymond James Stadium.

It was the first touchdown for McKenzie, a nine-year veteran, since he returned an interception 90 yards in 2003 while playing for the Green Bay Packers.

--The Saints placed LB Alfred Fincher, a third-year pro, on injured reserve and signed linebacker Matt McCoy to take his roster spot before Sunday's game.

Payton said Fincher had headaches last week after suffering a concussion in an Oct. 28 game at San Francisco. A third-round draft pick in 2005, Fincher played mostly on special teams.

McCoy, a three-year veteran, was taken in the second round of the 2005 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2005. He played in 26 games with 10 starts before being waived on Oct. 29.

--The Saints tied a franchise record with 32 first downs, including 25 passing, against the Jaguars. The Saints had 23 first downs in the first half alone.

They had 32 first downs on two other occasions -- both against the Atlanta Falcons. The Saints set the record on Jan. 2, 1983, and matched it on Oct. 26, 2005.

--Former Saints DE Joe Johnson was honored at halftime Sunday for his induction into the team's Hall of Fame last weekend.

Johnson, a two-time Pro Bowl pick, became the 35th person to be inducted into the Hall.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--C Jeff Faine, who suffered a strained left pectoral muscle on Oct. 21, missed his second consecutive game Sunday against Jacksonville. The Saints hope to have him back for this week's matchup with the St. Louis Rams.

--DT Brian Young did not play against the Jaguars after his injured left knee swelled up following practice Friday. His status for this week's game will be determined when the team returns to work on Wednesday.

--WLB Scott Shanle was held out of Sunday's game due to a strained left hamstring. The timetable for his return to the field was not known Monday.

--LB Alfred Fincher will miss the remainder of the season after being put on injured reserve Saturday. Fincher suffered a concussion in an Oct. 28 game at San Francisco that left him with headaches last week.

--LB Matt McCoy, a three-year veteran who was waived by the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 29, was signed to take Fincher's spot on the 53-man roster.

--T Jermon Bushrod, one of two fourth-round draft picks this spring, was active for the first time this season against the Jaguars but did not play.

REPORT CARD VS. JAGUARS

PASSING OFFENSE: A-plus -- For the second consecutive week, the Saints showed why they led the NFL in passing yards last season. Drew Brees had the hot hand once again, completing 35 of 49 passes for 445 yards (including a whopping 346-yard first half) and three TDs with a long of 57 yards. Brees was sacked once but did not throw an interception. He had a passer rating of 119.9. Nine players caught passes, with Marques Colston leading the team with 10 receptions for 159 yards. David Patten added 81 yards on four catches and a 4-yard TD, his first TD since 2004 while still with New England. TE Billy Miller also had a big day, with 75 yards on three receptions.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Because of the noise the passing game made, the Saints quietly put together a good day on the ground and finished with 103 yards on 25 carries. They averaged 4.1 yards per attempt, which was good considering their long run was 12 yards by Reggie Bush. He had 72 yards on 17 attempts and a 1-yard TD, while Aaron Stecker picked up 24 yards on six tries.

PASS DEFENSE: B-minus -- The Saints get some credit for intercepting three passes, which matched their total of the first seven games, but they didn't exactly come away clean. CB Mike McKenzie intercepted Quinn Gray and took it back 75 yards for a score to give the Saints a 31-17 lead midway through the third period, and CBs Jason David and Jason Craft also got picks. But Gray, who was making just his second NFL start, did make some plays. He threw an 80-yard TD pass to Reggie Williams over David in the first quarter and went on to complete 20 of 33 passes for 354 yards and two TDs. He was sacked twice and hurried on numerous occasions. Williams had 128 yards on six catches.

RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus -- The Saints held an opposing team under 100 yards for the seventh straight game as the Jaguars managed just 88 yards and a 3.8-yard average on 23 carries. Fred Taylor had 54 yards on 12 attempts, and Maurice Jones-Drew had 38 yards on five carries, but the Saints defense, with the help of a big lead from the offense, forced the Jaguars to become one-dimensional for the final 1 1/2 quarters. The Jaguars' long gain was 15 yards by Taylor.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- The Saints have some work to do in the return game as well as covering kicks. The Saints averaged 19.4 yards on kickoff returns and 3.7 yards on punt returns, but they also allowed Maurice Jones-Drew to take a kickoff up the middle for a 100-yard touchdown on the final play of the first quarter. Olindo Mare continued to struggle on field goals, as he made just two of four attempts. The two misses, which were both wide right from 43 and 52 yards out, came just 47 seconds apart late in the first half. Mare, who is 6-for-12 this season, made a 46-yarder in the first quarter and got derisive cheers from the home crowd after connecting from 34 yards with 3:01 to play.

COACHING: A -- Knowing that he was facing a team known for its run defense, Sean Payton spread the field and opened up the passing game to put the Jaguars on their heels. As a result of his bold game plan and play-calling, the Saints threw the ball 37 times in the first half and piled up 346 passing yards en route to 538 total yards. They let up a little late in the third quarter after taking a 38-17 lead and coasted the rest of the day, although Brees finished with 445 passing yards.


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