New Orleans Saints fans packing the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Monday night began singing, “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye,” to the Miami Dolphins with about six minutes left in the third quarter.
That’s how quickly New Orleans’ elite quarterback, his plethora of weapons and the opportunistic defense that complement them had secured their ninth consecutive win on “Monday Night Football,” a 38-17 victory that improved their record to 4-0 and left them with a commanding 2 1/2-game lead in the NFC South.
Drew Brees had four touchdowns and 413 yards on 30-of-39 passing. It was the 10th 400-yard game of his career with the Saints, and his passer rating was a blistering 144.5.
“He is at a really sharp level,” coach Sean Payton understated. “He did a good job with his progressions, protected the football well, and he was outstanding.”
The best tight end in the NFL, Jimmy Graham, caught two of Brees’ scoring throws, ultimately tallying four receptions for 100 yards. Running back Darren Sproles, with seven catches for 114 yards and a lost fumble, hauled in a third Brees touchdown throw and added a rushing score to crush a Dolphins team whose worst defeat to the Saints occurred the last time they played in the regular season — in Miami four seasons ago, when New Orleans won by 12 and later returned to that city to win Super Bowl XLIV.
Sproles added 28 yards on four rushes, 44 yards on three punt returns, and 36 yards on two kickoff returns to account for 222 total yards.
The Saints defense eliminated any hope Miami had of keeping up.
Defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Tyrunn Walker and outside linebackers Junior Galette and Martez Wilson each sacked the Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill — all in the second half — bullying an offensive line that has allowed the league’s most sacks.
“We want to dominate up front, and that’s what we did,” Galette said. “We had to keep getting after it, take advantage of that weak offensive line.”
Galette accused the Dolphins of acting like “fake tough guys” as the game wore on, talking trash even though New Orleans was up big.
“It is what it is,” Galette said. “I think we know who the real (undefeated) team was.”
The crowd at the Superdome rewarded each sack with a deafening roar, and Jordan said, “You could definitely feel the momentum swing our way.”
Jordan, in the Saints locker room, slipped on a pair of bright red-colored glasses and described the atmosphere on the field as “a party really.”
“You look over, and everybody is like, ‘Yeah, I’m about to get a sack,’ ” Jordan boasted. “We were just talking to each other about who’s going to get there first.”
But the sacks were only part of the problem for Miami. Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton stripped Tannehill at the end of an 8-yard scramble, which safety Rafael Bush recovered at New Orleans’ 38 in the second quarter. Cornerback Jabari Greer picked off Tannehill in the second quarter; and in the fourth quarter, cornerback Chris Carr and linebacker Will Herring chipped in interceptions.
When the carnage was over, Tannehill was 22-of-35 for 249 yards, a 3-yard touchdown to tight end Charles Clay in the fourth quarter and the three picks.
Dolphins running back Lamar Miller had a 5-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and kicker Caleb Sturgis had a 34-yard field goal in the first.
On the drives that didn’t end in turnovers or scores, the Saints held Miami to four punts and a kneel-down at the end of the first half. Bush’s fumble recovery set up a 27-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Graham, who out-leapt both cornerback Brent Grimes and Jamar Taylor to reel in the score in the left side of the end zone.
Greer’s interception set up a 13-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Sproles on a third-and-11.
Sproles caught the pass at the 5, remaining focused on the ball though a defender had lunged for it. Sproles spun around after the catch and tiptoed up the left sideline into the end zone.
It was Sproles’ second score; he had run in a handoff from the 5 for a touchdown on the game’s first drive. The Saints ran for 68 yards on 24 attempts.
Sproles’ and Graham’s touchdowns put New Orleans up 21-10 at halftime.
Brees, who was sacked twice, threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ben Watson and a 43-yard strike to Graham in the third quarter, and kicker Garrett Hartley hit a 29-yard field goal to cap the scoring.
Hartley made all of his extra points but missed a 43-yard field goal attempt late in the third quarter.
The Saints now prepare for what will arguably be their toughest two-game stretch so far this year, visiting the Chicago Bears (3-1) on Sunday and the New England Patriots (4-0) a week later.
New Orleans’ past three trips to Chicago’s Soldier Field were at the beginning of the Brees (and coach Sean Payton era), and they ended in disaster. The Saints lost the 2006 NFC Championship Game and were eliminated from playoff contention the following two seasons.
Meanwhile, New England’s 92-24 record since 2006 is the best in the NFL, and its 36-6 record at home is the best since 2008.
New Orleans sits atop the NFC South, ahead of Carolina (1-2), Atlanta (1-3) and Tampa Bay (0-4).
But right tackle Zach Strief refused to liken this year’s team to the Super Saints of 2009.
“They’re so different — it’s so hard,” he said. “I would say right now, absolutely not. ... Look, we’re four games into the season. Nothing’s been decided, but at the same time, we couldn’t ask to be in a better position.
“The fact of the matter is it’s on us to maintain this and keep it going, and that starts next week in Chicago.”