ATL: What We Learned  

 

What we learned Monday: Saints down, but not out

The road to the Super Bowl will almost certainly run through the Emerald City after the Seattle Seahawks put an indelible 34-7 stamp on the New Orleans Saints on Monday night.

Sports fans don't typically embrace blowouts, but even casual observers could appreciate the Seahawks' near perfect performance against the game of football.

While the Seahawks can rest secure in the knowledge that they will own the NFC's No. 1 seed even if they split their final four tilts, the Saints have to go back to the drawing board after getting lambasted in every facet of the game.

Sean Payton and Drew Brees can take solace in the fact that these early December blowouts rarely portend disaster for the losing team.

Four years ago this week, the Patriots beat the Jets 45-3 on "Monday Night Football" only to have the tables turned in the playoffs. The Ravens were blown out by the Broncos in mid-December of last year before going into Denver for the upset a few weeks later.

It's easy to anoint the Seahawks as Super Bowl favorites. Just don't forget the Ravens were 1-4 in December last year. The Giants entered December on a three-game losing streak two years ago. There are still two months' worth of football to play.

The Saints are down, but they're not out.

Here's what else we learned in Monday's game:

1. If Peyton Manning is odds-on favorite for MVP honors, Wilson is emerging as his stiffest competition after a third consecutive performance with a passer rating over 134.0. There's never been a quarterback who combines Wilson's size, uncanny scrambling ability, accuracy, intelligence, leadership and deep-ball prowess. He's an original, which his why 25+ organizations are kicking themselves for passing on one of the greatest assets in today's NFL.

2. Cliff Avril's strip sack which turned into a 22-yard fumble return touchdown for Michael Bennett perfectly illustrated the advantage of having Wilson at roughly $500,000 versus Drew Brees at over $20 million. Pete Carroll entered last offseason with pass rushing as his top priority. If not for Wilson's low salary, adding both Avril and Bennett would have been a pipedream.

3. The Seahawks aren't viewed as a dominant offense because they lack superstars at wide receiver and play a ball-control style, but they went into the game ranked sixth in Football Outsiders metrics. Wilson utilizes all of his weapons, which means this offense doesn't suffer even if the opposing defense takes away what it does best -- namely crush tacklers with Marshawn Lynch. Just wait until Wilson gets Percy Harvin back in the playoffs.

4. Prior to this game, Brees was 9-0 with a 123.6 passer rating in his last nine "Monday Night Football" performances. He cratered in epic fashion, producing his lowest yards-per-attempt figure (3.86) in a decade. The Saints' offense didn't cross its own 30-yard line for a second time until deep into the third quarter. Brees has another stiff text next week against a Panthers defense that gave Seattle fits in the season opener.

5. The Saints wide receivers have been an overlooked weak spot all season, with the offense relying too heavily on Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles. Until the fourth quarter, no wide receiver had a reception of 10+ yards against the Seahawks' physical cornerbacks and speedy linebackers. Graham realized he wasn't playing the Falcons when two intermediate-to-deep passes were knocked out of his hands with jarring hits at the point of the catch.

6. According to numbers compiled by the NFL Media research department, the Saints defense entered the game with the largest scoring improvement from one year to the next since 1940. It exited the game facing renewed doubts about its ability to hold up against superior competition. At halftime, the Seahawks were averaging 8.5 yards per play compared to the Saints' 3.5. Wilson did what he wanted against Rob Ryan's secondary.

7. On the flip side, the Seahawks made a strong statement that they will be just fine without cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond. Fill-ins Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane will face a stiffer test on the road where the pass-rush slacks, but they more than held their own against Brees' lethal aerial attack. Earl Thomas -- the best safety in the league -- is a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

8. Even more than usual, the 12th man was a factor at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks reclaimed the loudest crowd record from the Chiefs with a 137.6 decibel reading after the opening kickoff. Jumping fans registered a magnitude 1 or 2 earthquake on Michael Bennett's 22-yard fumble return touchdown in the first quarter. The crowd noise forced the Saints into penalties, including a stretch of three on one possession.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" recapped every Week 13 game.

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