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Saints Flip NFC Script: Five Takeaways From NFL Week 9

If there’s one certainty about the NFL at midseason it’s that its next Super Bowl champion likely will be the one who gets the final possession in an epic shootout.

It’s clear no one plays defense in the league anymore, at least not consistently enough to make a difference, like the 1985 Chicago Bears or 2000 Baltimore Ravens.

Saints

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Only six teams have allowed under 20 points per game this season and other than the Chicago (19.1), does anyone think Dallas (17.6), Baltimore (17.8), Tennessee (18.1), Philagdelphia (19.5) or Seattle (19.5) looks like a potential championship team?

Didn’t think so. Kansas City, New Orleans, Los Angeles Rams, New England and Pittsburgh. One of these teams will win the Super Bowl because of its ability to score prodigiously. All that’s left to determine is what the matchup will look like.

The Saints certainly merit consideration after outlasting the Rams 45-35 at the Superdome, handing them their first loss of the season. The Rams hadn’t been 8-0 since 1969

“We’re good,” said Rams coach Sean McVay. “We love it. You find out about yourself when you have a little bit of adversity. I know everybody in that locker room is going to respond the right way and sometimes setbacks can be setups for comebacks.”

The Saints pounded on the Rams, opening a 21-point lead. Not that the past is relevant in this case, but the Rams had lost their last 48 straight when down by three touchdowns.

“It’s a loss,” said Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. “Nobody likes to lose, so we just got to watch the film and fix it. We ain’t panicking. We ain’t worried. We just got to be better.”

The great Drew Brees was 25-of-36 for 346 yards and four touchdowns. Michael Thomas caught 12 passes for 211 yards, scored one touchdown and used one flip phone (more on that later) as he set a franchise record for the most receiving yards in Saints history.

Michael Thomas

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Phone Call For Michael Thomas

What is it about receivers that makes them so, um, demonstrative.

Since Billy “White Shoes” Johnson began knocking his knees together in the 1970s, wideouts have exhausted themselves trying to invent new ways to bring the attention to themselves.

On Sunday in New Orleans, it was the turn of Saints’ receiver Michael Thomas to play his role in dancing with the stars.

After he hooked up with Brees for a 72-yard TD in the fourth quarter, Thomas knelt at the goalpost and uncovered and ancient flip phone he has stashed there before the game. Thomas opened it and an put it to his ear as if he was having an actually conversation.

If this reminded anyone of something which happened in a Saints game long ago, they were right. Joe Horn pulled the same stunt on Sunday Night Football in  2003 and got a $30,000 bill from the NFL because of it.

Turns out, Thomas was paying homage to Horn.

“I loved the celebration,” said Thomas. “I loved the swagger he brought. I love how it got the crowd going. I definitely was thinking about it, but I am happy I waited for that moment.”

As you might expect, the New Orleans Times-Picayune buzzed Horn as he was working out in a gym on Sunday in Mississippi.

“When I saw him bring out that the cellphone, I teared out,” said Horn, a four-time Pro Bowl pick who played for the Saints from 2000-06. “That’s something some kids don’t do, pay homage to an old soul. For him to do it on a national stage took a lot of courage. I’m humbled.”

Pay homage? Does that mean some kid in middle school now will squat in an end zone simulating a dog peeing like Odell Beckham, Jr., did a few years ago?

Like Thomas needed any extra attention on the day he set the Saints record for receiving yards in a single game (211).

Demaryius Thomas

Justin Edmonds / Getty

Texans Not Doubting Thomas

It was both coincidental and cool that receiver Demaryius Thomas got to play his first game in a Houston uniform on Sunday in Denver, the team he had starred for over the previous 8 ½ seasons.

Last week, Thomas was dealt to the Texans just before the trade deadline to help upgrade a position left shorthanded by a season-ending knee injury to Will Fuller.

The game ended up being high-stress. The Texans were leading 19-17 with three seconds to play when kicker Brandon McManus was sent out to win the game. But McManus’ 51-yard attempt sailed wide right to ice the sixth straight win for the Texans.

After the missed kick, the cameras caught Thomas sprinting happily into the vistors’ tunnel. And there was no misinterpreting how he felt about it all.

“That’s what they do over there,” Thomas told NFL.com. “I ain’t a part of that no more. We like to win over here.”

It sure seems that way. The Texans, once 0-3, are now in control of the AFC South. The Broncos, once 2-0, are now 3-6 and out of the AFC West and wildcard races.

By the way, Houston coach Bill O’Brien made sure to incorporate Thomas as quickly as he could. Deshaun Watson hit Thomas for a 31-yard completion on just the game’s fourth play. On the next play, Watson and Thomas combined for 18 more giving the Texans a first down on the Denver 15. From there, Watson went to rookie tight end Jordan Thomas for the touchdown.

After the game, many of Demaryius Thomas’ former teammates stopped to say hello before he boarded the team bus. That included Peyton Manning, his QB after Tim Tebow.

Patriots Prove It Again

As is usually the case with these things, Sunday’s Hall of Fame showcase between Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers turned out to be less about them and more about the state of their teams.

Brady’s Patriots (7-2) are on their way to another AFC East title and perhaps homefield in the playoffs. Rodgers’ Packers (3-4-1) now appear to be middle-of-road fodder in the NFC North.

Last week, Green Bay’s Ty Montgomery defied orders to take a touchback on a crucial fourth-quarter kickoff against the Rams and fumbled it away. The Packers were so incensed they traded the halfback last week.

Well on Sunday, another Packers back, Aaron Jones, fumbled to end a key Green Bay drive and helped shift the momentum – never a good thing – to the Patriots. New England scored the next 14 points: Patriots 31, Packers 17.

Brady was more efficient than heroic. He threw six straight incompletions at one point. He completing 22-of-35 for 294 yards and one TD pass.

But Brady has a much better team around him and that’s no fault of Rodgers, who has managed to keep the Packers afloat despite playing all season with a bad right knee. He was 24-of-43 for 259 yards and two TDs.

“It just looked like they had to work for every yard,” said Brady.

If Bell Rings, Maybe Steelers Won’t Answer

Our favorite quote of the weekend, at least prior to Monday Night’s game, comes from Steelers offensive lineman David DeCastro, who was asked about absent halfback Le’Veon Bell following their 23-16 win in Baltimore.

“Honestly, no one cares anymore,” DeCastro said. “Why would I? I don’t want to waste the energy. I have to block some of the best players on the best defense in the world. Do you think I’m going to worry about a guy who’s not here?”

No David, we do not. You’ve got to love the unfiltered honesty of offensive linemen.

There are a lot of teams on rolls right now and you can add the Steelers (5-2-1) to that list. They are taking control of the AFC North, now that the candidacies of Cincinnati and the Ravens have been exposed as fraudulent. Pittsburgh beat Baltimore 23-16.

And Pittsburgh has done it the trademark way, just like it did when Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier and Jerome Bettis were delivering the mail. They have a stong offensive line and a headline back.

Bell’s tactical error of holding out – he’s protecting his body for impending free agency – has come at a cost. He has been supplanted by James Conner, who totaled 163 yards with a TD in the win. Conner has at least 100 rushing yards in four straight games – four Steelers wins.

Bell, a three-time Pro Bowl pick, has until Nov. 13 to sign his franchise tender if he wants to wear black and gold this season. Either way, the Steelers have moved on as if Bell was out for the season with an injury.

“I don’t want to take anything away from James, but the big boys up front are opening holes,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. It’s a collective effort. James is going above and beyond.”

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