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John DeShazier's analysis of Saints wild 34-31 OT victory

Posted Nov 19, 2017

Game wasn't perfect but it was beautiful

Flawless?

Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Beautiful?

Absolutely.

The New Orleans Saints’ 34-31, overtime victory over Washington on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome – their eighth straight win after opening the season 0-2 – was a rise-from-the-abyss special, with New Orleans trailing 31-16 with 5:58 left in regulation, then scoring two touchdowns, a point-after and a two-point conversion in the final 2:53 of regulation to force overtime. The Saints had won in almost every imaginable way this season, until Sunday. It’s the kind of win that fosters the belief that something special is happening with this team.

OFFENSE: The numbers don’t suggest a struggle. When you roll up 535 yards of offense and have two performances that especially stand out – Drew Brees completed 29 of 41 passes for 385 yards and two touchdowns, with an interception, and Mark Ingram ran 11 times for 134 yards and a touchdown, and caught three passes for 21 yards – that sounds like a fairly easy day. It was anything but that for the Saints. New Orleans had 275 yards and 13 points in the first three quarters, before erupting for 21 points and 260 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime. Brees was sacked twice and hounded for much of the day, and those protection issues helped lead to a 4-of-12 showing on third down. Washington had the perfect blitz for the perfect play on several occasions, gumming up the offense like few teams have been able to this season. But give the Saints this: When they had to get it going, they got it rolling in a big-time way. The two touchdowns they scored in the fourth quarter were exactly the way they had to be scored – long drives (75 and 87 yards, respectively) in short amounts of time (3:05 on the first and 48 seconds on the next one). And once New Orleans took possession in overtime after a defensive stop, there was little doubt that the Saints were going to finish off the pulsating comeback. As Brees said, this was one to build on.

DEFENSE: Few will be singing praises regarding the Saints’ shutdown ability on defense for Sunday’s offering. But like the offense, there was a level of grit and get-it-done-when-they-had-to that erased a few glaring errors. After being sliced for 338 yards and 24 points through three quarters, New Orleans buckled down and held Washington to 118 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter and overtime. The Saints didn’t have a sack for three quarters, but got one from safety Vonn Bell at the end of regulation and one from defensive end Cam Jordan in overtime to highlight their late-game pressures. Three missed interceptions (cornerbacks Ken Crawley, P.J. Williams and De’Vante Harris will kick themselves) greatly would have assisted, because Washington’s Kirk Cousins (22 of 32 for 322 yards and three touchdowns) had his way for a large portion of the game. A couple of busted coverages in the secondary led to no-one-in-the-same-zip-code touchdown receptions by Ryan Grant and Jeremy Sprinkle. And the Saints didn’t stop the run nearly as soundly as they’d been, allowing 156 rushing yards and a touchdown on 33 carries. But with the Saints trailing 31-23, the defense produced a three-and-out (including a stop on third-and-one by Manti Te’o and Vonn Bell with 2:38 left). And after the New Orleans offense tied the score with a touchdown and two-point conversion, the defense came up with another door slam in the final 65 seconds – aided by Cousins’ intentional grounding – that was highlighted by Bell’s sack and forced fumble, which Washington recovered as time expired in regulation. It will hearten the defense to know that it, too, can produce enough winning plays on a day when everything isn’t smooth. It also will encourage the unit to know that minus four starters (A.J. Klein and Kenny Vaccaro were inactive because of injuries, and Marshon Lattimore and Alex Okafor exited with injuries), the next man can and will step up.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Saints may have found a spark to their punt return game. Tommylee Lewis handled that duty Sunday rather than Ted Ginn Jr., and Lewis returned two punts for 38 yards. His 14-yard return in overtime allowed the Saints to begin their drive at their 39-yard line; from there, Ingram ran twice for 51 yards to set up the game-winning field goal. And speaking of field goals, Wil Lutz was perfect on four attempts (52 yards in the first quarter, 29 in the second, 42 in the third and 28 in overtime). It was good to see him have a day that didn’t involve a breakdown. The numbers don’t look potent for punter Thomas Morstead (three punts for a 39.7-yard average), but none were returned and all were downed inside the 20 (one at the 8, one at the 6 and one at the 15). It was the kind of solid day that the Saints needed.