Baltimore – Hard to quantify just how good a win was the New Orleans Saints' 24-23 victory on Sunday over the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, and hard to put a number on how many outstanding performances contributed to New Orleans' fifth straight win and third straight on the road.
But we're here to try, and to apologize ahead of time for leaving several deserving candidates off the list.
OFFENSE: It almost seems a travesty not to have Drew Brees' name in this slot. Against the best defense in the NFL, he was so surgeon-like that Baltimore suffered defeat by 1,000 cuts. Brees completed 22 of 30 passes for 212 yards, and his 5-yard touchdown to Michael Thomas with 4:58 left gave New Orleans a 21-17 lead. But second-year offensive lineman Cameron Tom was put on the spot, and he held up. Josh LeRibeus was an injury-replacement starter at left guard for Andrus Peat, while Tom had practiced at right guard last week for injured Larry Warford. Warford started against Baltimore, LeRibeus was injured in the second quarter and Tom came in at left guard and performed admirably. The Saints allowed one sack – not Tom's doing – against a team that was averaging 4.5 per game and they scored 17 fourth-quarter points against a defense that was allowing 12.8 points per game. We've marveled for the last couple of years at the Saints' ability to mix-and-match along the offensive line when injuries occur and not suffer a letdown in execution. Sunday, with Tom, was the latest example.
DEFENSE: Defensive end Alex Okafor is a real inspiration. He ruptured an Achilles last season, and was back for the start of this season. Sunday, he provided the Saints' only sack against Joe Flacco, on third-and-10, to help force the punt that gave the Saints possession before their last touchdown drive. Okafor supplies pressure every week and even contributes to special teams (he blocked a punt against Atlanta). He had two quarterback hits, batted down a pass and added three tackles against Baltimore. The Saints have a good defensive end rotation with Okafor, Cam Jordan and Marcus Davenport.
SPECIAL TEAMS: You can look at it one of two ways. The petty way would be that Baltimore's Justin Tucker missed a point-after attempt that possibly helped the Saints avert overtime, and that the first missed PAT of his career earns him this helmet sticker. Nah. Instead, let's celebrate the fact that Wil Lutz's 39-yarder with 2:07 left proved to be the game-winner, and that the Saints' kicker now has made 11 of 12 field-goal attempts this season. This one was special because Lutz was in training camp with the Ravens in 2016, and that strong showing earned him the tryout with New Orleans that resulted in the Saints signing him on the eve of that regular season. Lutz has been money this season, and the Saints hope he'll be that way for many more seasons.