For a night, the Saints got to enjoy themselves.
They got the goose-egg off their record, improving to 1-4, a half-game out of second in the NFC South.
But this is a temporary reprieve, at best.
The Chargers have shown signs of being a good team, but were swept up in the moment Sunday. (Watch highlights here.)
But until the Saints run the ball with any degree of consistency, or until they play better defense, they won’t get much better.
This Saints defense doesn’t have nearly the talent coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had at his disposal when he built a reputation with the New York Giants. That’s a given. But they just don’t fit what he wants to run. There’s little evidence they can consistently rush the passer with any of their linemen, and there’s not an impact player in the back seven either (despite Roman Harper running under a gift-wrapped one in the fourth quarter). They have some solid parts, but until they add some personnel, this defense is going to struggle regardless who’s coaching.
Gregg Williams could trick it up and blitz and try to cover up the shortcomings, and it worked for a bit. But it wasn’t going to beat the clock, as Spagnuolo is finding out.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. Maybe not being the champions of March, April and June will help the Chargers come January.
This offseason has been different for San Diego, without the weight of Super Bowl expectations that have been standard as they’ve underperformed for years.
Many thought the Chargers were lost at sea when Vincent Jackson was allowed to leave in free agency. But by replacing him with cheaper players such as Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem, the Chargers may have made themselves harder to defend in the long run.
Even the dog-housing of running back Ryan Mathews has an ulterior motive. When you put a guy you traded up in the draft to acquire in the first round on the bench, there’s a message of accountability.
And while it might be temporary, the 3-2 Chargers appear more willing to work for the praise that was given so freely before it was earned.
2. Of course, the Chargers need to get some people well, specifically left tackle Jared Gaither.
He battled back problems all summer, and gave up game-deciding pressure late in the game. Whether that flared up or he was just beaten, it was clear in the final moments of the game he wasn’t right, and it cost them a chance to tie.
3. It’s hard to call a guy with a five-year, $36.3 million contract underrated.
But you know what, Saints wide receiver Marques Colston is kind of underrated.
It’s almost amazing that he hasn’t made a Pro Bowl yet, and if not for some injuries he probably would have.
Brees’ second touchdown, the non-record breaking one, was Colston’s 50th with the Saints, tying Joe Horn for most in Saints history.
Colston made that record his own in the third quarter, and finished with nine catches for 131 yards and three touchdowns.
4. Chargers rookie linebacker Melvin Ingram was flagged for roughing the passer in the third quarter, taking a pick six off the board and allowing the Saints to get within a field goal, a 14-point swing that changed the course of the game.
As roughing calls go, it was a little thin, but it’s the kind of thing that gets called these days.
But he’s one of a few good young parts on that Chargers defense (along with defensive end Corey Liuget) that will keep them solid for years to come.
5. Drew Brees broke the record.
But you know what? The Chargers still made the right call going with Philip Rivers. For all the numbers Brees has posted, the Chargers quarterback has more regular season wins since Brees was allowed to leave, and mostly similar passing numbers.
What Rivers hasn’t had is Sean Payton. Norv Turner is a good play-caller, but Payton’s proving in his absence how good he is at his job.
If there was a debate, let’s end it. Young and promising is better than not-as-young and hurt, which is what Brees was when the decision was made.