Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints enter December looking poised to make a Super Bowl run.
Ndamukong Suh’s lack of poise may have seriously hurt the Detroit Lions’ playoff chances.
Brees looks to lead the Saints to a fourth straight win Sunday night when they host a Lions team that will be without Suh due to a league suspension.
New Orleans (8-3) is coming off an impressive 49-24 victory over the playoff-hopeful New York Giants on Monday night. Brees passed for 363 yards and four touchdowns and had an eight-yard TD run as the Saints finished with 577 yards, second-most in franchise history.
“What it comes down to is we have a lot of confidence and we play very aggressive,” said Brees, whose streak of 38 straight games with a TD pass is second-longest in league history behind Johnny Unitas (47).
New Orleans, first in the NFL in total offense (449.6 yards per game) and second in scoring (32.9 points per game), maintained a one-game lead over Atlanta in the NFC South.
“We can always get better. There’s always something to prove. The challenges only get greater as you move through the season,” Brees said. “… We got Detroit coming to town, on a short week, so we’re going to have to get ourselves back on track out here pretty quick and ready for that game.”
This might be an opportune time for the Saints to be catching the Lions (7-4), whose season appears to be falling apart.
Detroit has lost four of six after opening the season 5-0, and Suh has been suspended for two games for stomping on Green Bay’s Evan Dietrich-Smith in a 27-15 loss on Thanksgiving Day.
The Pro Bowl defensive tackle, barred from practice and the team’s facility, appealed the suspension but the NFL upheld it Friday. This latest incident was Suh’s fifth violation of on-field rules in his first two years in the NFL.
Suh’s absence will clearly hurt Detroit’s run defense as well as its pass rush on Brees, who hasn’t been sacked during the Saints’ three-game winning streak.
“Obviously, it hurts to lose any player for two games much less a player like Ndamukong Suh,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “But there’s accountability for our actions and that’s a situation where something happened after the whistle. We want to be as tough and physical and play as hard as we can between the snap and whistle, but anything that happens after that we put our team in a bad position and we have to pay the consequences for and that’s the position we’re in right now.”
Suh’s loss of composure became a major turning point in the game against Green Bay. The Lions had stopped the Packers on third down, seemingly forcing them to settle for a field goal. Suh’s penalty gave a first down to Green Bay, which scored two plays later to take a 14-0 lead early in the third quarter.
The loss dropped the Lions into a three-way tie for the NFC’s two wild-card spots, although Chicago and Atlanta currently own the tiebreakers.
“We’ve got to try and get to 8-4,” said Matthew Stafford, who has nine interceptions in the last three games after throwing four in the first eight.
Suh wasn’t the only Detroit player forced out of the Thanksgiving game.
Besides running back Kevin Smith hurting his right ankle, leg injuries to defensive backs Chris Houston, Louis Delmas and Brandon McDonald forced wide receiver Rashied Davis to play safety in the fourth quarter.
Smith, who ran for a career-best 140 yards against Carolina in Week 11, hopes to play, but Delmas is expected to be out a few weeks and neither Houston nor McDonald practiced Tuesday.
A depleted secondary could be trouble against Brees, who has torched Detroit in two career starts.
In a 45-27 home win over the Lions on Sept. 13, 2009, Brees threw for 358 yards with a career-high six touchdowns. The previous year in Detroit, he passed for 351 yards with two TDs in a 42-7 victory.
The five-time Pro Bowler leads the NFL with 3,689 passing yards – the most ever by a player through the first 11 games of a season – and has benefited from a strong running game.
Led by Mark Ingram (420 yards), Pierre Thomas (403) and Darren Sproles (402), the Saints are eighth in rushing offense (125.5). The trio ran for 197 yards against the Giants.
“I think we have found balance,” coach Sean Payton said. “It’s a long season, and the thing we try to do as best we can is just trying to improve and win each week.”
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