The New Orleans Saints are just six games into the 2008 season, but it's never too late to start thinking out free agency in 2009. Scout.com's Adam Caplan has confirmed that at least 14 Saints will be restricted or unrestricted free agents in 2009. How will those players fit into the Saints' plans next season and beyond? Saintsinsider.com has already analyzed each potential free agent and their worth to the Saints in 2009. Click right here for the story.
After turning in its worst performance of the season in a heartbreaking setback to the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 6, the Saints might have had their best effort less than six days later in a complete 34-3 win over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
After opening the game with a crisp touchdown drive in an eventual 30-27 loss to the Vikings, the Saints self-destructed that night with four turnovers, six penalties and that lone offensive touchdown.
Despite working on a short week, the Saints bounced back against the Raiders despite a three-and-out on their first possession as Drew Brees led his team to 441 total yards in completing 26 of 30 passes (86.7 percent) for 320 yards and three TDs. The Saints, who had just three offensive penalties, didn't turn the ball over and had four touchdowns total.
"We scripted out the plays," Brees said. "We knew coming in which plays we wanted to run and who we wanted to get the ball to. I just thought we were very efficient all day long."
Brees connected on his first 16 passes -- one shy of his own club record -- and compiled a 144.4. passer rating, the highest of his eight-year career. On the Saints' four TD drives, he was 16-of-17 for 121 yards with three scores.
"We needed that," said wide receiver Lance Moore, who led the team with seven catches for 97 yards. "It's funny how it works sometimes. Fans lose confidence and maybe even some players lose confidence when you don't score first or you go three and out against a team you think you should be able to move the ball against. We had to bounce back and be efficient on offense, and we were able to do that."
The Saints' second drive was short-circuited by a pair of holding penalties on left tackle Jammal Brown before rookie Taylor Mehlhaff misfired on a 31-yard field goal attempt.
But they were extremely productive after that with four TDs and two field goals in their next six meaningful possessions. Their first touchdown drive was an 18-play, 86-yard march that took 10:59 off the clock.
"We talked during the week about the key being sustaining drives to keep their defense on the field," right tackle Jon Stinchcomb said. "We wanted to keep their defense on the field and put drives together. That one really set the tone for us and really got things going in our direction."
"We didn't do the little things to stop ourselves like we did Monday night," center Jonathan Goodwin said. "We were able to sustain drives because we weren't shooting ourselves in the foot."
Saints running back Reggie Bush caught the 200th pass of his NFL career in the first quarter of Sunday's 34-3 thrashing of the Oakland Raiders.
Bush, the second pick of the 2006 draft, hauled in a 21-yard pass from Drew Brees to reach the 200-catch mark in just 34 career games. That tied the NFL record by Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin for the fewest games needed to reach 200 career catches.
Bush, however, still became the fastest to 200 catches by a running back -- by far. It took the San Diego Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson and former Tampa Bay Bucs' standout James Wilder 44 games to do it.
MEHLHAFF GETS IT RIGHT: After being signed on Wednesday to replace an injured and ineffective Martin Gramatica, rookie kicker Taylor Mehlhaff had a shaky start in his NFL regular-season debut against the Raiders.
Mehlhaff, a sixth-round draft pick from Wisconsin, lost a training camp duel with Gramatica but was re-signed last week when Gramatica was put on injured reserve with a groin problem.
Mehlhaff misfired on a 31-yard field-goal attempt in the first quarter and later hooked his first kickoff out of bounds following the Saints' first touchdown of the contest.
Later, Mehlhaff settled down and kicked field goals of 44 and 33 yards.
DAVID'S FIRST PICK: After Saints cornerback Jason David came up with his first interception of the season in the third quarter, he was tackled after returning the ball to the Raiders' 17.
He got up and ran toward the fans in the north end zone, where he was joined by defensive end Charles Grant for a little celebration. David handed the ball to Grant, who fired it into the stands.
"I thought he was going to hold it for me," a smiling David said after the game. "All of a sudden I'm celebrating and I see the ball flying into the crowd.
"I wasn't too happy about it, but it's a team game," he added. "C.G. (Grant) is a great guy. I'm not mad at him for it. I usually like to keep my interceptions, but that one got away."
NOT GIVING IT UP: The Saints played 24 consecutive games, a streak that dated to the end of the 2006 season, with at least one giveaway before it finally ended Sunday.
The Saints had no turnovers against the Raiders, the first time that had happened since a 30-7 beating of the New York Giants in Giants Stadium on Dec. 24, 2006.
Counting Sunday's game, the Saints are now 8-0 under Sean Payton when they have no turnovers -- going 7-0 in 2006 and 1-0 so far this season.
A RECEIVING WEEKEND FOR THE MOORES: A day after his brother Nick set a Toledo record with 20 receptions in a 13-10 upset of Michigan on Saturday, Saints wide receiver Lance Moore had a big day in leading his team with seven catches for 97 yards.
Lance Moore said he spoke with Nick, who had just 20 catches this season before Saturday's game, shortly after he broke the school record of 15 that Lance Moore set in 2003 against Pittsburgh.
"He was just ecstatic," Lance Moore said. "I told him I may not get 20 catches like he had, but that I would try to get as many as I can."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--WR Marques Colston will likely play in Sunday's game at Carolina after missing the last five games with a torn ligament in his left thumb.
--TE Jeremy Shockey, who underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia on Sept. 23, could play against the Panthers after missing the last three games.
--DT Sedrick Ellis, who had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Oct. 3, could miss his third straight game Sunday at Carolina.
--FS Kevin Kaesviharn missed Sunday's game with Oakland because of a back problem and his availability for this week was unknown Monday.
--WR David Patten was inactive against the Raiders because of a groin injury and the date of his return was not known Monday.
--CB Aaron Glenn might be available against the Panthers after being sidelined for the last four games with a right ankle injury.
--DT Antwan Lake, who was held out of Sunday's game with a groin injury, will be monitored in practice to see if he can return for the Panthers game.
REPORT CARD VS. RAIDERS
PASSING OFFENSE: A-plus -- Drew Brees has had some monster passing games since joining the Saints in 2006, but he was at the top of his game in dissecting the Raiders. He completed 26 of 30 passes for 320 yards and three TDs with a long of 51 yards. Two of Brees' four misses were throwaways as he finished with a career-high passer rating of 144.4. He distributed passes to nine different receivers, with Lance Moore leading the way with seven receptions for 97 yards. Eight players caught at least two passes.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus -- The Saints piled up a season-high 122 rushing yards and a TD on 33 carries as they ran the ball effectively at times. Deuce McAllister plowed through the Raiders' soft defense for 65 yards and a 5.0 average on 13 attempts, while Pierre Thomas added 18 yards on three carries. Reggie Bush picked up just 27 yards on 14 tries, but he did have a 3-yard TD run for the Saints' first score of the afternoon. The only thing that kept the grade from being a little higher was a 3.7 average.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- Three drops of potential interceptions served up by Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell kept the Saints from getting an A in their most impressive effort of the season. Confusing Russell and hurrying him with heavy pressure, they allowed 13 completions in 35 attempts for 159 yards and one interception. The Raiders managed 141 net yards, the lowest total allowed by Sean Payton's team since Week 16 of the 2006 season, after two sacks of Russell.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus -- For the third straight week, the Saints were extremely strong against the run despite facing some shifty backs. After holding down Frank Gore and frustrating Adrian Peterson at every turn, the Saints allowed 85 yards and a 3.9 average on 22 carries against the Raiders. They limited Justin Fargas to 35 yards on 10 carries, then clamped down on Darren McFadden and held the shifty rookie to 30 yards on eight tries.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- After missing his first NFL field-goal attempt from 31 yards out and having a kickoff go out of bounds, rookie Taylor Mehlhaff had a pretty good game in converting field goals of 44 and 33 yards. Punter Steve Weatherford also had a good day in averaging 46.0 yards a kick, but the Saints' return game never got in gear thanks to Raiders punter Shane Lechler and kicker Sebastian Janikowski. Reggie Bush returned just one punt for 8 yards and both of Janikowski's kickoffs went for touchbacks. The Saints allowed a 35-yard punt return, but held the Raiders to a 16.8 average on five kickoffs.
COACHING: A -- Working on a short week after a tough loss to Minnesota less than six days earlier, the Saints staff gets a lot of credit for getting their players ready for a Raiders team that was coming off a bye. The play-calling by Sean Payton was crisp and the defensive game plan was very effective in rattling JaMarcus Russell early and often. The coaches also got their point across about reducing the 24 penalties the Saints had in their two previous games as they were flagged just four times -- including none in the second half -- against the Raiders.