Almost everyone wrote the New Orleans Saints off this season after an 0-4 start, including myself. They looked horrible at the beginning of the 2012 season. And for a little over a month they became irrelevant. No one wanted to watch the Saints play, or, at least, it was just too painful to.
But they have turned that around. The team is now 5-5 and has a shot at making the playoffs, it will be a tough, but they do have a shot.
Who would have thought that?
Their fifth win came at the expense of the Oakland Raiders in Week 11. This Saints team looks far from the team that had lost their first four games. The offense is becoming balanced, and their defense is starting to find its groove under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
Let's take a look at some of the Saints' biggest winners and losers against the Raiders.
Winner: Drew Brees
Brees had a typical Brees game on Sunday. He threw for three touchdowns and was accurate, going 20-of-27 for 219 yards. No, he didn't have his usual 300-yard performance, but he still managed to pick the Oakland defense apart.
He did an excellent job spreading the ball around, completing his passes to eight different receivers.
When Brees is on point, so is New Orleans, or more often than not, the Saints will come out with the win. If Brees keeps up his level of play, the Saints organization and Who Dat Nation may see some playoff action.
Loser: New Orleans Saints penalty problems
It's always difficult to find any losers when your team wins, especially when your team shellacks the opposing team the way the Saints did, but the Saints did have some penalty problems in their win against the Raiders.
The Saints committed 11 penalties for 109 yards. That is unacceptable and cannot happen against tougher opponents, or it may cost them.
Winner: Mark Ingram
Quite the midseason resurgence the running back is having. Some were doubting whether Mark Ingram was worth the trouble the Saints went through to get the first-round pick.
He has been putting together a decent few games recently. That didn't change against the Raiders. He finished the night with 67 yards on 12 carries, showing his strength and elusiveness on several plays, gaining some big yards, including a 27-yard touchdown run.
The Saints' backfield is crowded, but he is starting to stand out.
Loser: Saints defense...I guess
This is a long shot, because the Saints have been making huge strides in defensive improvement and making huge plays, but they gave up a good amount of yards to the Raiders.
The Saints allowed the Raiders to gain 404 yards. It is the fewest allowed by the Saints defense this season. That's saying a lot.
Winner: Malcolm Jenkins
Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins is playing a huge role in the team's defensive resurgence. He has made some big plays in key moments, and it was the same against the Raiders.
Jenkins got a first-quarter interception and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown, giving the Saints a 14-0 lead. His second career interception for a score.
Winner: Saints defense
Yes, the unit gave up a lot of yards to the Raiders, but it also continued to show its uncanny ability to hold off opponents in the red zone.
Again they were able to hold the Raiders off, preventing them from scoring when they got in the red zone. They got a couple of interceptions, one from Jenkins (a pick-six) and the other from Roman Harper.
The Saints linemen also did a good job of putting pressure on Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer, sacking him three times for a loss of 28 yards. Palmer looked uncomfortable back there for a good amount of time.
Also, rookie defensive lineman Akiem Hicks continues his impressive play. He put pressure on Palmer and was solid against the run. He will be a key to the Saints defense for a long time.
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