The Saints ruled out struggling wide receiver Marques Colston with a knee injury before Sunday’s game at the New York Jets even started, then lost another important pass-catching option, running back Darren Sproles, to a concussion two snaps into the contest.
Receiver Robert Meachem benefited the most from the extra touches going around MetLife Stadium. He caught four passes for 93 yards, including the contest’s longest play and a tip-drill reception featured all day on highlight reels.
Meachem’s outing didn’t prevent the Saints (6-2) from losing 26-20, their second defeat in three games. But for a wideout trying to prove he can still contribute in the NFL, it was his most productive day in the league since he had 119 yards Dec. 4, 2011.
“Robert (was) making the plays that he’s made for a long time,” receiver Lance Moore said Monday. “He’s been a big-play guy.”
Quarterback Drew Brees had already gone to Meachem once for a 15-yard gain when he threw another pass to the receiver at the 48 on second-and-15 with about five minutes left in the first quarter. But the ball bounced off Meachem’s hands, and he tipped it twice while attempting to haul it in.
But the ball bounced off the helmet of Jets linebacker Demario Davis. Jets cornerback Dee Milliner then tipped the ball up, and it bounced twice on Meachem’s helmet before he cradled it with his right hand for a 13-yard catch.
The play didn’t merely amaze the crowd of about 77,000 in East Rutherford, N.J., and millions more watching on television. It allowed Brees to toss a 51-yard touchdown to tight end Jimmy Graham two plays later, giving New Orleans a 7-3 lead.
Meachem tallied the majority of his yards on his third catch. On first-and-10 from New Orleans’ 20, he faked inside but went outside of Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie. Meachem stutter-stepped, then cut right and inside of Cromartie, who tripped and fell toward the sideline.
Though Meachem had considerable separation between him and the next-closest defender, Brees threw the pass a little behind him. Meachem waited, caught the ball and got to the Jets’ 20 for a 60-yard gain. Three plays later, Brees hit Graham for a 10-yard TD to help put the Saints ahead 14-6.
It wasn’t a perfect day for Meachem, who eventually caught a fourth pass for his final 5 yards of the day. He dropped a pass on third-and-7 that likely would’ve given the Saints a first down at or beyond the Jets’ 18 with 3:15 left, at which point New Orleans trailed 26-17. The Saints settled for a field goal.
But Meachem’s drop was far from the only one by a sloppy New Orleans offense. There were five others — including two from receiver Nick Toon, one of which led to Brees’ second pick. Ultimately, only Graham (nine catches for 116 yards) outgained Meachem for the Saints.
Meachem in all probability won’t nudge past rookie receiver Kenny Stills or Moore in the pecking order. Stills has 16 catches for 362 yards and three TDs this year. He’s the top Saints wide receiver after Colston (27-342-1) managed just 44 yards on six grabs in the three games before his absence Sunday.
As for Moore, he has played two fewer games than Meachem but has produced six more catches (13) and yards (148). But Meachem on Sunday showed he’s able to man a useful role on the right team.
That team wasn’t San Diego, which signed him to a contract guaranteeing him $14 million, expected him to be a No. 1 receiver and saw him tally a paltry 14 receptions for 207 yards and two TDs in 15 games.
That team is the one where, in five years before he joined San Diego, he racked up 155 receptions for 2,453 yards and 24 scores (counting the postseason) as a supporting member of the cast, the one he returned to this year: New Orleans.
“I’m not really sure what was going on in San Diego because I wasn’t there,” Moore said. “I can’t really speak for that very much, but when he came back here, I knew the types of plays he was capable of making and the type of situations he was going to be in here.”