The Saints might have ended their mini four-game funk just in time with Sunday's easy 38-7 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Despite winning four straight games in which they didn't play their best -- especially on the offensive side of the ball -- the undefeated Saints shook off their recent poor play by kicking aside the Bucs in Raymond James Stadium.
That they did it with the next team on the schedule being the New England Patriots was significant to the Saints (10-0). It means they finally begin to think about Monday night's showdown with the three-time Super Bowl champions instead of simply being aware of that looming game.
That they corrected the mistakes that resulted in 13 turnovers in the previous four games with no giveaways against the Bucs before facing the Patriots was a relief to many -- including coach Sean Payton.
"I like where we are at, I mean we are 10-0," Payton said after his team set a club record for consecutive victories. "We beat a division opponent on the road. I was pleased we eliminated some of those mistakes offensively."
While they struggled early, the Saints' offense looked like the team that buzzed through the first five opponents -- winning those five games by a total of 99 points. They scored 31 points with four touchdowns and a field goal in six possessions that spanned the second and third quarters.
Combined with a strong effort by a defense that allowed just 219 yards -- including 144 after the Bucs got 75 on their first drive -- and came up with four more takeaways to push their season total to 29, the Saints showed that they were ready to face the Patriots.
Free safety Darren Sharper said it was good to see the Saints playing at the level they were earlier with the biggest game of the season on the horizon.
"There are things we can still improve on," he 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."
New Face On The Left
The Saints had a surprise starter at left tackle when they faced the Tampa Bay Bucs on Sunday as four-year veteran Zach Strief got the call instead of third-year pro Jermon Bushrod.
Strief and Bushrod rotated in the first half before Strief, who made his fifth career start, played the majority of the second half in the Saints' 38-7 victory.
After the game, Saints coach Sean Payton said Strief has had some good practices recently and the staff wanted to see what he could do in a game.
Bushrod started the last three preseason games and eight of the first nine regular-season games in place of Pro Bowl tackle Jammal Brown after he had surgeries for a sports hernia and a hip problem. Brown has since been put on injured reserve.
Turnover Bug Gone
After committing 13 turnovers and allowing nine sacks in their previous four games, the Saints' offense played a clean game against the Bucs.
The 13 turnovers in the last four games was the most in a four-game span since Sean Payton took over in 2006, topping by one the 12 giveaways they had in the first four games of the 2007 season.
But on Sunday, the Saints had no giveaways and didn't even put the ball on the ground, while Drew Brees did not come close to being sacked by the Bucs' defense.
Defense Stepping Up
While the offense was doing what it does best, especially late in the first half and the second half, the Saints' defense was solid after the Bucs stung them for a 95-yards touchdown drive on their first possession.
The Bucs actually gained 75 total yards on the first series when you throw in 20 yards on two Saints' penalties. After that, however, the Saints' defense limited the Bucs to 144 yards on the next 47 snaps for an average of 3.1 yards per play.
The Saints also came up with four turnovers -- three interceptions and a fumble recovery -- and recorded three sacks of rookie quarterback Josh Freeman.
The Saints' fourth touchdown against the Bucs, a 3-yard run by tailback Mike Bell with 4:50 remaining in the third period, was the team's 200th in 58 games since Sean Payton became head coach in 2006.
So Much For Close Games
Prior to the Saints' 31-point blowout of the Bucs on Sunday 15 of the last 18 games in the series had been decided by a touchdown or less.
Saints left defensive end Charles Grant made the 100th start of his NFL career against the Bucs. Grant was a first-round draft pick of the team in 2002.
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