For the New Orleans Saints, Sunday was supposed to be a relief.
Watch enough NFL games, and it will become evident that there is no such thing as a gimme.
After New Orleans took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, the Arizona Cardinals rallied for a surprising 30-20 win.
If the previous four close games, including the overtime loss to Atlanta, were not wake-up calls, this one was.
Arizona won despite failing to throw or run for a touchdown. The Cardinals debuted an undrafted rookie quarterback and rushed for just 41 yards (1.7 average). But they had only one turnover (an early interception by Jabari Greer) and made the plays they needed at the right times.
As the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Saints have been brought back down to earth this season. As it turns out, the team they beat in Super Bowl XLIV, the Indianapolis Colts, are also having issues through the early part of the season.
Through five weeks of play, there are no undefeated teams. At least one NFL team started 10-0 in each of the last five seasons, and two teams (one being the Saints) won their first 13 games last season.
It’s rough everywhere, and the Saints certainly have their fair share of concerns.
The most glaring issue for New Orleans has been its decrease in offensive output. That starts with the lack of a rushing attack, which has been hampered by an array of injuries. Starters Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas have both sat out. Third back Lynell Hamilton was lost before the season started, along with P.J. Hill, who showed potential as a third option.
The Saints relied on veteran Ladell Betts and rookie Chris Ivory to cobble together 83 rushing yards Sunday.
Uncharacteristic turnovers doomed New Orleans as Betts fumbled and Drew Brees threw three interceptions.
Teams have caught up with the offense this season. Opponents have taken away the big plays so far. Brees’ top target, Marques Colston, had his best game yet with seven catches for 97 yards Sunday, but has yet to score a touchdown.
A telling play was when the Saints tried to set up a screen pass. Not seeing anything he liked, Brees grounded the ball, then walked to the sideline frustrated. The Arizona defense had them figured out.
It went from bad to worse when Brees had to force throws on the final drive.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie put the game away when he returned the last interception 28 yards for a touchdown.
Arizona turned the tables after New Orleans started strong. The first quarter belonged to the Saints as John Carney kicked a 31-yard field goal and Brees threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey on their first two possessions.
Page 2 of 2 - Led by rookie quarterback Max Hall, the Cardinals tied the score with a bit of serendipity. The Saints smashed Hall as he tried to run, forcing a fumble. Lineman Levi Brown happened o be in the right place at the right time as he scooped it up for a touchdown.
The Cardinals took a 10-point lead in the fourth. Betts fumbled and Arizona’s Kerry Rhodes returned it 27 yards for a touchdown, adding to the Saints’ offensive woes.
With less then two minutes left, Brees breathed some life into the ailing team when he connected with Robert Meachem on a 50-yard scoring pass.
Trailing by three, the Saints had little time and a long way to go. Cromartie thwarted any hopes of a drive with his interception, and padded the lead by scampering into to the end zone.
Further proof of the unconventional result: Arizona was only the second team in NFL?history to score 30 or more points without throwing or running a touchdown.
The Saints have to go back to the drawing board after the wheels started to come off Sunday.
The game proved that wins won’t come easy. In the highly-competitive NFL, teams have to be ready for a battle any given Sunday.