NEW ORLEANS -- Just how much damage can a 5-6 football player who hadn’t scored a touchdown this season do to an undefeated Dolphins team?
Turns out, plenty.
Diminutive New Orleans Saints speedster Darren Sproles issued a Big Easy hangover to the Dolphins, though not with any big hit.
The Dolphins probably haven’t forgotten the ringing in their ears from Saints fans celebrating his two touchdowns Monday night in the Saints’ 38-17 victory.
Their feet might ache a bit from chasing him all over the Superdome turf and their vision might be a blur as Drew Brees found Sproles for seven passes and 114 yards — all in the first half of Monday’s game.
“He’s a really smart player so when he ends up open in zones or doing the right thing in man [coverage], it’s not really a surprise,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.
Going into the game, Sproles had 16 catches for 163 yards and no touchdowns.
Exiting, Sproles had jump-started his season and helped quell the Dolphins’ momentum.
Brees’ screen passes ravaged the Dolphins — and most of the damage came when connecting with Sproles. But it was a long pass that kicked off the night’s damage.
Sproles spied behind Dolphins safety Reshad Jones on the left sideline on the Saints opening drive — and Brees floated a 48 yard pass into his hands.
Sproles finished the drive with a 5-yard scoring run with 11:52 remaining in the first quarter. He went untouched into the end zone as the Saints offensive line speared a gaping hole through the middle of the Dolphins defensive front. That was his only run of the first half.
There was simply no stopping Sproles in the first half. His most staggering statistic were yards after catch. On all but one of his catches, Sproles’ yards after reception were greater than the pass itself. On the 48-yard reception, he went 32 yards after the catch.
Sproles came up big on third down as well. He bailed out the Saints on a third-and-20 in the second quarter. New Orleans was backed up because of a holding penalty, but Sproles erased the problem when he caught a 21-yard screen.
Then the Saints used another size weapon to finish that drive — this time the big gun, 6-7 Jimmy Graham, to pull down a 27-yard touchdown pass over Brent Grimes and Jamar Taylor.
It was case of mismatches at the expense of the Dolphins most of the evening. Sproles speed accounted for 101 yards after catches in the opening half.
Sproles wasn’t finished scoring or converting on third down in the first half, however. He took a 13-yard pass from Brees in for a touchdown with 55 seconds left in the first half. With the extra point, the Saints extended their lead to 21-10.
The diminutive athlete also returned punts Monday night, though the Dolphins had better luck against him on special teams. Sproles averaged 14.7 yards on three punt returns in the game and had long of 18 yards.