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John DeShazier: End of half interception could have turned the tide for Saints

Posted Sep 12, 2017

Defensive end Cam Jordan nearly made amazing play

One of the many skills perfected by New Orleans Saints defensive end Cam Jordan during his seven-year NFL career is the art of timing a quarterback’s pass, and swatting it incomplete.

Sometimes the ricochet sends the ball splintering off to one side or the other of the hand that swatted it, sometimes the offering rockets back in the direction of origin, and sometimes it balloons into the air, a tantalizing proposition for any defender.

The latter was the case Monday night against Minnesota, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. And it happened at what turned out to be a critical time for the Saints. And the Vikings.

The Saints were on their heels defensively, trailing 10-6 after having allowed a three-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that erased a 6-3 lead by New Orleans. After the Saints offense went three-and-out, punter Thomas Morstead boomed a 68-yarder that pinned the Vikings at their 5-yard line with 1:43 left in the first half.

Two critical plays by the Vikings – a 10-yard run on third-and-1 from their 14, and a 44-yard completion on second-and-8 from their 26 – quickly took Minnesota to first-and-10 from the Saints’ 30. Two more plays – completions of six yards to Kyle Rudolph and 20 yards to Stefon Diggs, the latter compounded by an unnecessary roughness penalty assessed to Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro – gave Minnesota first-and-goal from the 2.

The Saints caught a break (a Vikings false start pushed them back to the 7), then almost created a break on their own. Specifically, Jordan almost created it.

On first down, quarterback Sam Bradford dropped back and looked right to hook up with running back Dalvin Cook. Jordan read the pass, timed it perfectly, and batted it in the air. But he didn’t just bat it anywhere – the pop-up was one that Jordan circled under like an outfielder, ready to end Minnesota’s possession in the end zone with an interception and touchback.

The problem? Jordan’s teammate, linebacker A.J. Klein, also had a bead on the ball. The two hulks crashed into each other in pursuit of the gift, knocked each other off rhythm, and likely heard a collective groan from Saints fans across the nation as the football landed on the turf.

Two plays later, Bradford and Diggs connected on a 2-yard touchdown pass. And in the football equivalent of an eye blink, the Saints went from entering halftime with a 10-6 deficit, to heading to the locker room trailing 16-6.

New Orleans never again trailed by less than two possessions, and in a game where the defense didn’t have a ton of success after the first quarter, the play could have been one that swung momentum over to the visitors.