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John DeShazier: Nate Stupar's pick helped turn the game in Saints direction

Posted Oct 31, 2016

Athletic interception stopped Seahawks drive

Nate Stupar jokingly estimated his vertical leap at two inches.

Jokingly, because it’s obvious from the previous two games that the New Orleans Saints linebacker has serious hops, more so than he’s willing to let on.

First, there was his springy pass breakup in Kansas City against Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, when he displayed a bounce that may not have been Jordanesque, but was significantly more impressive than two inches. Then, on Sunday against Seattle in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Stupar’s instincts, film study and lift were the critical elements in him intercepting his first pass in 50 NFL games, and helping set the wheels in motion for New Orleans to post a 25-20 victory over the Seahawks.

The Seahawks led 14-6 after Wil Lutz’s 53-yard field goal capped a 10-play, 40-yard drive for the Saints. Lutz’s kickoff then was returned 37 yards, to Seattle’s 33-yard line, with 5:15 left in the second quarter.

On first down, left guard Mark Glowinski was penalized five yards for a false start, pushing the drive back to the 28. On the next play, Stupar sprang into action.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who entered the game with just one interception this season, tried to find receiver Jermaine Kearse over the middle. Instead, Stupar read his eyes and quickly turned to his right, bound into the air, plucked the pass attempt and landed at the 37-yard line with 5:02 left.

Nine plays, 37 yards and 4:13 later, the Saints scored a touchdown on third-and-goal from the 1 when quarterback Drew Brees jumped and extended the football across the goal line, pulling New Orleans to within 14-13 with 49 seconds left in the half.

The interception was critical on several fronts.

First, it evened the turnover margin at one apiece; Seattle safety Earl Thomas returned Mark Ingram’s fumble 34 yards for a touchdown to give the Seahawks a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Second, the Saints scored a touchdown off it to match Seattle’s score off its turnover.

Third – and likely most important – it perhaps prevented the Seahawks from driving and scoring at a time when the game was in a precarious position for the Saints, who needed to stay close until the offense was able to post a touchdown and close the gap. Instead of a possible time-consuming drive by Seattle, or even a forced punt that would have put the Saints in positon of having to drive 70 or 80 yards in order to reach the end zone, Stupar’s pick flipped momentum and shortened the field.

The Saints would score on their final six possessions – the drive after Stupar’s interception was the third of the six scores – and won for the third time in their last four games.

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