When you break the NFL for most first downs in a game in NFL history, that probably means everyone played pretty well on your offensive unit. The Saints were able to get their 40th first down on a 4th down run to end the game (39 was the previous record). Enough can't be said for a top to bottom complete performance where everyone chipped in.
Drew Brees: A+ for the game (3.22 for the season) He was 34 for 41 for 392 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. It was one of the most flawless performances he's ever had, and that's saying something. I could write for days about what he did well in this game, suffice to say it was peak performance by one of the best to ever play.
Mark Ingram: A (1.92) Saying this was his best game of the season gives his performance no justice whatsoever. He could have rushed for 40 yards and we'd be saying that. He had 145 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown. Sure he added a bit of emotion that was over the top to the end of his runs, one that landed him a 5 yard delay of game penalty, but you could tell he was frustrated from the season. You could tell the negativity had got to him and he wanted to go out there and prove all his doubters wrong. And there's been many of them. But at least for one game he showed he can be a stud NFL running back. He also had 2 catches for 15 yards but had a drop that hit him right in stride. He ran with good intent and looked faster than he's looked in a while hitting the hole. He didn't have breakaway speed at the second level but he hit holes quickly and was physical. Good for him, he brought it.
Pierre Thomas: A (2.93) Vintage PT Cruiser performance where he continued to get the tough yards. The Saints owe him the first down record, too, because he got 5 yards plus a couple inches on a 4th and 5 run late to get it. That run was all effort and power. He had 87 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown, and also added another touchdown receiving to with 24 yards on 7 catches.
Darren Sproles: B+ (2.79) He had a horrible fumble despite usually being so reliable with his hands muffing a punt return. That set up a 3-0 Cowboys lead. On the next drive, he comes up with a SICK blitz pickup on Brees' first touchdown pass to Colston that makes that play happen. At 5'6" I have to give him huge props for standing in there and protection his quarterback like so many big backs just can't do. He had 7 catches for 76 yards, none bigger than the 28 yard screen pass that helped him score with 5 seconds remaining in the half. Terrific speed there. He also had 5 carries for 12 yards and a nifty touchdown run inside. I really like him as a short yardage back because he's so slippery and hard to see. His returns were poor and he seemed to call fair catches after that fumble too much.
Jed Collins: A+ (2.67) The lead blocks he gave on the interior all night were just devastating. He brought some serious pain to Cowboy linebackers. By far the best game I've ever seen him play.
Marques Colston: A (2.71) Also in vintage form, it was just nice to see Colston making those big time 3rd and short plays where he moves the chains. He seemed to be feeling better as he broke tackles and used his frame well, too. He was short on one pass and he didn't get great separation at times but he did major damage in the first half. He had 7 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown, and give him tons of credit on the score for dominating a tackler and he stretched for the end zone. Nice to have him back!
Lance Moore: B- (2.28) He had just one reception for 14 yards but it was a big one that converted a 3rd and 12 on a touchdown drive. Huge. Before Sproles' screen TD Brees tried for Moore deep and they came close to connecting in double coverage.
Kenny Stills: A- (2.63) He made plays here and there, but his 52 yard bomb for a touchdown was the major one. He did a great job there of just tracking the football and making a good catch, while making the defender look stupid. He continues to be a significant deep threat. He had 3 catches for 75 yards and the touchdown.
Robert Meachem: B (2.08) He had a 17 yard reception on a beautifully designed play action play over the middle. Otherwise he was used frequently when the Saints pounded the ball in the "I" and he blocked very well.
Nick Toon: C (1.60) He played sparingly and had some decent blocks. Brees didn't look his way but he was in on the party. Hard to grade him too bad when he was involved in something like this.
Jimmy Graham: B+ (3.19) He had 5 receptions for 59 yards on 5 targets. Nothing too special and he quietly gave the Saints his contribution. He did carry a tackler with him past the first down marker once going into beast mode and owning defensive backs once again. Brees just passed him GPA wise to be the highest on offense for the season.
Benjamin Watson: B- (2.48) He had one reception for 5 yards but drew a penalty on another target near the end zone. He was close to having a touchdown, too, but couldn't hang on as he was concussed on the way down. Otherwise did a good job blocking before he left.
Josh Hill: B- (2.11) Mostly in as a blocker, he did fine. He's turned out to be a really interesting prospect that no one expected.
Charles Brown: C (2.04) By far the weakest link on offense in this game. He gave up a sack and had an illegal use of the hands penalty and negated a 1st down catch by Colston just before Hartley's missed field goal. He also almost got Brees killed on the touchdown pass to Pierre Thomas, where Brees' hand seemed to get banged up. DeMarcus Ware gave him fits at far less than 100%. I cringe to think about how he'd do with someone of similar ability but healthy. All that said I can't hit him too hard with the grade because the offense scored 7 touchdowns and put up 600 yards + of offense.
Ben Grubbs: A (2.30) Finally a game worthy of the Ben Grubbs we saw last year, but also worthy of the contract he carries. Grubbs was physical, moved well, made no mistakes and pass blocked to perfection. This is something to build off of.
Brian de la Puente: A- (2.30) He had a holding call that docks his grade slightly. Otherwise, a dominant performance in the trenches. On both of Sproles' scores he had difference making blocks, with a textbook seal job on the run and a sick pull and pancake that sprung the screen free.
Jahri Evans: A+ (2.67) He was at his best. Pure and simple, just an incredible game by Evans. If you watched the game all over again and just watched Evans you'd be amazed and truly understand how valuable he is to this team. He just obliterated Dallas often all on his own. Most impressive was his ability to engage the first block, drag it to the second level and then engage a second player. So many of those 10+ runs were behind him and a function of him blocking two guys at two levels on the same play. He was awesome and he too had some devastating pulls on screens.
Zach Strief: B+ (2.79) I'm not going to gush all over him like the interior but it was a very clean and rock solid performance from Strief. More of the same we see each week from him.
Bryce Harris: B (2.39) On the final touchdown drive he played a good deal as the jumbo tight end and brought some nice size off the edge.
My Offensive Player of the Game; Drew Brees