New look Saints D gets high marks

Scott Fujita (Alex Brandon/AP)

The New Orleans Saints defense took the brunt of the criticism for the Saints' 7-9 season in 2008. While it's too early to suggest the unit has had a complete turnaround, their play in their Week 1 win over Tampa Bay suggests that it's possible. Plus, link to Saintsinsider.com's premium content on this game.

Each Week Saintsinsider.com will break down a key drive from the New Orleans Saints' most recent game. The Drive breaks down every play of a drive, analyzes its importance in the game and why that drive mattered to a Saints victory or defeat. In this week's debut, Matthew Postins breaks down a key third-quarter drive that led to a 1-0 record. Get the inside look right here.


If the Saints' new-look defense continues to play the way it did in Sunday's game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they could have a lot to talk about this season -- for all the right reasons.

The much-maligned defense, which featured five new starters from the unit that ranked 26th in total yards allowed and 30th in passing yards during a 7-9 campaign a year ago, got off to a good start Sunday.

Make that a great start.

Their play in a 24-20 victory over the Bucs will certainly be a comfort to the Saints' decision-makers, who spent a lot of time and energy working on that side of the ball this offseason.

A trade and several aggressive moves in free agency and the draft, which yielded four starters and two key backups Sunday, certainly paid off in the win over the defending NFC South champions in the Superdome.

The new-look unit gave up just 13 points (the other seven points came on an interception off Drew Brees) and then came up with a game-saving stop on fourth down at the Saints' 24 with 38 seconds remaining.

Among the new players that stood out were cornerbacks Randall Gay and Tracy Porter, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Bobby McCray.

"Obviously, it was an exciting game," Saints coach Sean Payton said of a contest that featured three lead changes in a 7 1/2-minute span of the final quarter. "It went back and forth with two good teams just kind of punching each other with momentum swings."

Fortunately for Payton, the Saints got in the last two swings in the final period. One came from his potent offense, which racked up 438 total yards and got touchdown passes of 39 and 84 yards from Brees before he connected with Reggie Bush on a 42-yard swing pass that was the game-winning score.

The other came when strong-side linebacker Scott Fujita, who was spying on Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia on fourth-and-six from the Saints' 24 with just under a minute to play, came up with an interception to ice the win.

Three plays earlier, McCray, who was a coveted free agent this offseason because of his pass-rushing ability, dropped Garcia for a seven-yard loss on first down after the Bucs reached the Saints' 28.

Fujita said the Saints defense, which gave up 32 touchdown passes a year ago, wanted to end it even though the offense could have sealed the deal with a first down a couple of minutes earlier.

"Defensively, you hope for opportunities to come up," he said. "You want to step up and close the game out like that, or as I was saying earlier, at least hold up our end of the bargain."

When asked if he had a bigger interception as a member of the Saints, Fujita smiled and said, "I had one in my first game (in 2006), but it didn't close out the game. This one was on fourth down at the end of the game, so it's pretty special."

Pretty special, indeed, for a much-maligned defense.

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