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(Associated Press)

(Associated Press)

Hobbs Column: Saints no longer look underwhelming

Last Modified: Tuesday, November 12, 2013 10:05 PM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

For some reason I was slow to jump on the New Orleans Saints’ bandwagon this season.

Kind of fortunate to beat the Falcons, it seemed, did everything in their power to lose to a Tampa Bay team that stubbornly refused to let it happen, pretty much OK against the Cardinals, Dolphins and Bears, but really had no real business losing to the Patriots and certainly not the Jets. And I think there was a win over Buffalo in there somewhere. Whoop, whoop, whoop.

Really, I was underwhelmed for some reason. It didn’t seem like, even with vastly improved defense, they were all that they could be.

But then came prime time Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys and it seemed like the NFL record book was going down in flames. This league has been at it a long time and suddenly its foundation was rumbling, sturdy columns were tumbling all over the landscape and women and children were fleeing as we got one update after another that Drew Brees was perfect on this and pluperfect on that and Darren Sproles kept disappearing underground and reappearing 10 yards downfield with no explanation for an unlikely first down or touchdown.

Meanwhile, the Saints were pass-covering Dez Bryant with something that didn’t look fair and only slightly legal, and I can’t imagine there’s anything funnier to watch in grown-man football than that Amoebae Defense, which leading up to the snap looks like a slow-motion, gridiron version of one of those flash-mob performances in the mall.

Granted, you have to pick your spots for it — third-and-very long, I’m guessing — but quarterback Tony Romo’s biggest problem was probably not bursting into uncontrollable laughter, wondering when a Harlem Shake might break out in the Saints secondary. The linebackers have to join the Screen Actors Guild to pull off the bobbing and weaving. I kept waiting on them to stick their thumbs in the ear holes of their helmets and waggle the eight remaining fingers at Romo.

Before long it was explained that the Saints had gained more yards than in any game in their history — even though Brees has been around for a good while now, and on this night he didn’t even bother throwing for 400-plus yards while the Cowboys were giving up more yards than they had ever surrendered in their long, mostly overrated history.

But the shocker came late, well after it was a wrap, with the most amazing stat I’ve ever heard in football — the Saints had 40 FIRST DOWNS, the Cowboys had 43 PLAYS RUN.

You mean to tell me that for almost every play the Cowboys ran the Saints countered with a first down?

The 40 first downs not only was an NFL record, my gosh, that’s 10 PER QUARTER.

The way they got the record won’t exactly be a chapter in the next edition of “Profiles in Sportsmanship” but still …

The Saints’ sideline evidently didn’t get word they were a first down shy of the record until wasting three meaningless plays in garbage time to face fourth-and-5.

No problem. Nothing blatant, just run up the middle … and the Cowboys still couldn’t tackle anybody.

I got curious and looked up LSU’s school record for first downs. It was 35, against Mississippi State in 1969, back before, I believe, the forward pass was legal, at least at LSU.

We’re getting sidetracked here, but in these parts its always good family fun to watch those TV cut-away shots of Jerry Jones keeping a stiff upper lip in the owners’ box.

It was double pleasure for Saints fans, who no doubt were thanking Jones for firing Rob Ryan as his defensive coordinator after last season.

Ryan is — thank goodness ∏— about to replace the Duck Dynasty guys as Louisiana’s favorite cult icon and had the pleasure of holding Jones’ team to — did I mention this? — three more plays than the Saints had first downs.

So, yes, no longer underwhelmed, Sunday night it suddenly seemed OK to think about home-dome advantage, to remember that the Super Bowl could possibly be played in a New Jersey blizzard and mainly I was wondering if, for one night at least, the Dallas Cowboys might have been the single worst NFL team ever assembled for live competition. Certainly the most tackling-challenged.

There is ample evidence to support this, the biggest red flag being that Saints’ running back Mark Ingram gained 145 yards rushing and it didn’t look like a misprint. He was suddenly running with authority and drive, with emotion and determination, and mostly through the holes as wide and gaping as the Mississippi River.

It was probably just a momentary setback in Ingram’s quest to replace Russell Erxleben as the biggest first-round bust in Saints history, as it should be noted that the offense carefully avoided his third-and-1 Achilles heel.

He will probably get a contract extension while not changing the fact that traded fan-favorite Chris Ivory ran for 139 yards for the Jets against the Saints the week before.

Otherwise, I’m at a loss to find anything to be underwhelmed about.

• • •

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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