The game that many New Orleans fans have been anticipating the last three weeks is almost at hand.
While they weren't ready to talk about it with games against the St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in front of them, the Saints could finally take a peek at Monday night's game with the three-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
A narrow win against the Rams a week earlier and a 38-7 blowout of the Bucs in Raymond James Stadium left the Saints with a 10-0 record, and only the 7-3 Patriots, whom they face in the Superdome, in their sights.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, the Saints got their sputtering offense back on track as if they were tuning up for the matchup with the Patriots. The Saints, who turned the ball over 13 times and allowed nine sacks in their previous four games, cleaned that up nicely Sunday with no giveaways or sacks.
"I like where we are at. I mean we are 10-0," coach Sean Payton said after his team set a club record with its 10th straight victory. "We beat a division opponent on the road. I was pleased that we eliminated some of those mistakes offensively."
The Saints crushed the Bucs after a slow start with the kind of offensive explosiveness and efficiency they had shown in racing to a 5-0 start.
They didn't take the lead until a 38-yard field goal by John Carney with 4:11 left in the second quarter; then, after a punt, the Saints scored touchdowns on their next four possessions to power their way past the lifeless Bucs.
Like they did earlier in the season, the Saints' defense also had a hand in the victory. After giving up a 95-yard touchdown drive on the Bucs' first series, they made things miserable for rookie quarterback Josh Freeman.
The Bucs gained 75 yards on the first march without two penalties against the Saints, but then gained 144 yards the rest of the day and averaged just 3.1 yards per snap after taking a quick 7-0 lead.
The Saints finished the game with four takeaways -- three interceptions and a fumble -- with the offense turning three of them into 17 points.
"There are things we can still improve on," Saints free safety Darren Sharper said, "but this is the type of game you want to have. That's dominating teams for four quarters, and that is a good sign because we all know our next opponent is a tough one."
LINEUP WATCH: With the cornerback position being hit hard by injuries, first-round draft pick Malcolm Jenkins will likely get extended playing time based on his performance in his first NFL start Sunday against Tampa Bay. He had a team-leading seven tackles and his first interception as a pro among his two passes defensed.
BY THE NUMBERS: 6 -- Consecutive wins for Saints coach Sean Payton against AFC teams heading into Monday night's showdown with the New England Patriots in the Superdome. Payton was 2-7 against AFC clubs before turning it around last season.
--RB Reggie Bush, who had swelling and soreness in his left knee last week, did not make the trip for Sunday's game against Tampa Bay and his status for Monday night's game with New England was not known.
--LCB Jabari Greer missed his second straight game against the Bucs because of a left groin injury and it's not known when he'll return.
--RCB Tracy Porter did not play Sunday because of a sprained MCL in his left knee and will likely be sidelined another three to five games.
--DT Sedrick Ellis, who returned to practice on a limited basis last week, missed his third consecutive game with a sprained right knee. He appears to be on track to return for this week's game with the Patriots.
--WR Lance Moore was inactive for the Bucs game because of a sprained left ankle and his return is unknown.
--LCB Randall Gay left the game against the Bucs in the second quarter with a slight hamstring injury and did not return.
--FS Usama Young, a converted cornerback, had to go back to his old position after Gay was forced to the sideline.
--CB Leigh Torrence, who started the game as the nickel corner, left twice in the third quarter with what he said was a stinger in his left shoulder. He left the game for good after re-injuring the shoulder late in the third period.
--LT Zach Strief, who had only one start this season, opened the game in place of Jermon Bushrod and rotated with him in the first half. Saints coach Sean Payton said Strief has had good practices recently and they wanted to get a look at him in a game.
--RB Mike Bell limped off with a right knee injury early in the second quarter, but returned to score on two short runs in the second half.