Mickles: Saints defense flashes its potential

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Saints defensive back Rafael Bush runs after intercepting a pass in the first half of the Saints' 41-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Saints defensive back Rafael Bush runs after intercepting a pass in the first half of the Saints' 41-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

In the moments after the New Orleans Saints defense looked like the Steel Curtain, Doomsday Defense and Monsters of the Midway wrapped into one neat package Sunday, there was one big question on Curtis Lofton’s mind.

It wasn’t where the stunning performance by his team in an out-of-the-blue 41-0 shutout of the Tampa Bay Bucs came from.

The question, Lofton said, was why it took 14 games to see it.

“The frustrating thing is playing the way we did today,” Lofton said before pausing, “and the question you have to ask is, ‘Why couldn’t we play like that all year?’ I don’t know the answer to that.”

At this point, you can file it under the heading of “Unsolved Mysteries.”

Indeed, Sunday’s blanking of the Bucs caused as much head-scratching as the 10 consecutive 400-yard games the Saints defense gave up to start the season and the 45 points they allowed a week earlier in a 52-27 loss to the New York Giants. (One of the touchdowns was on a kickoff return.)

In other words, a shutout was about as unexpected and unforeseen as the beatdown the Giants gave them, considering the Bucs ranked fifth in the NFL at 27.2 points per game.

But, Lofton noted, you can always hope — especially in the down-one-week, up-the-next-week nature of the NFL.

“To get that goose egg, that was a lot of fun,” he said. “As a defense, that’s what you strive for every single game.”

It doesn’t happen very often, however. It was only the 13th in the 46-year history of the franchise — which spans 704 regular-season contests and 14 postseason games.

The last one by the Saints had been Dec. 24, 1995, when Lofton was a 9-year-old growing up in Kingfisher, Okla.

Teammate Rafael Bush, who had one of four interceptions Sunday of Josh Freeman, was a year younger than Lofton the last time it happened.

“It’s hard to get shutouts,” said Bush, a safety who was the sixth defensive back in the dime package because of injuries to Malcolm Jenkins and Corey White. “That’s a dream and a goal every week.

“Every offense in the NFL is great, and you’re going to give up big plays here and there. To get a shutout is great. Hopefully it’s a stepping stone for us.”

While Lofton didn’t have an answer for the performance, defensive end Will Smith said it had a lot to do with not giving up big plays, like the Saints did in the first meeting with the Bucs on Oct. 21 in Tampa. That day, the Saints survived despite giving up three passes of more than 30 yards — including a 95-yarder — and a 36-yard run.

“We played a complete game in each phase today,” Smith said, making sure to compliment the offense and special teams as well. “It just shows you what our potential is and, for whatever reason or reasons, we haven’t lived up to the potential or the talent we have on this team.”

At least it was for one day.