NEW ORLEANS — For the past few games, veteran wide receiver Robert Meachem seemed almost like a forgotten man in the New Orleans Saints’ high-powered offense.
After catching 22 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns in the Saints’ first five games, his production tailed off to just seven catches for 131 yards and a lone touchdown in their next six games.
Then, against the Detroit Lions on a national stage Sunday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, quarterback Drew Brees suddenly had eyes for Meachem.
Meachem caught three of six passes targeted for him for a team-high 119 yards and one touchdown to help the Saints (9-3) score a 31-17 victory and increase their lead to two games over the Atlanta Falcons (7-5) in the NFC South.
Meachem’s 67-yard catch-and-run with 8:03 remaining in the first half increased the Saints lead to 17-0 and, in the process, made Lions’ right cornerback Eric Wright look awfully foolish.
Meachem caught the ball down the right seam at the Lions’ 35, then thoroughly frustrated Wright as he zig-zagged his way into the end zone.
“That was fun,’’ said Meachem, the team’s No. 1 pick in 2007 from the University of Tennessee. “I caught the ball and looked to my right, then I looked to my left and I saw an open field. After that, I just had fun.
“DBs are taught to stay between the receiver and the end zone, and I just kept turning him around. Like I said, that was fun. It was a great day for me. God gave me a gift, and I just try to use it to the best of my ability.’’
Meachem acknowledged that he sometimes gets frustrated when he seemingly disappears in the Saints’ offense for a game or two, saying, “One game you may not get a ball, then the next game you may get five balls.
“That’s just the nature of our offense,’’ Meachem said. “When you have a great quarterback like Drew Brees, you know he’s going to do his best to get everybody the ball. When your number is called, you just got to make the best of it.’’
“I think every guy on our team knows to get where you’re supposed to be,’’ said Brees, who completed 26 of 36 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns against the Lions for a sizzling 129.6 passer rating. “Protection was great all day long. We just continued to move the ball down the field.’’
Meachem opened the second quarter with a 38-yard reception to the Saints’ 47, the first play of a nine-play, 97-yard drive that culminated with a 14-yard scoring run by rookie running back Mark Ingram. Meachem also picked up 8 yards on an end around, setting the stage for Ingram’s score.
Meachem’s third catch came inside the final three minutes, a 14-yarder to the Lions’ 38, pushing his season statistics to 32 catches for 478 yards and five touchdowns.
“It wasn’t perfect,’’ Saints coach Sean Payton said. “Nonetheless, to get to nine wins was significant. There is a handful of things that we have to get corrected to get to where we want to go.
“Fortunately, we have time to do that. Now we kind of shift our gears for two away games, beginning with Tennessee this week (and at Minnesota on Dec. 18).’’
If Meachem has his way, he’ll have his hands in both games.
“You just never know in our offense,’’ said Saints wide receiver Marques Colston, who caught six passes 54 yards. “There is one ball, and we have a lot of good players who deserve the ball. That’s just the way our offense works.
“Robert knows that. We all know that. That’s just the way it is.’’