There was enough action packed into the New Orleans Saints game on Sunday to last a couple of Sundays, and maybe a bit left over after that.
The Saints (10-3) came up short in a 48-46 game against San Francisco (11-2) in which neither team could shed the other's shadow, and three scores in final 143 seconds were the deciders, with San Francisco's Robbie Gould kicking a 30-yard, game-winning field goal as time expired.
We'll try to unpack a bit of it here, to mine a few outstanding performances by the Saints.
OFFENSE: Not much of a debate here, not when Drew Brees performs the kind of surgery he did against a 49ers defense that entered the game allowing 134 passing yards per game, least in the league. Brees lit up San Francisco for 349 yards and five touchdowns – he completed 29 of 40 passes and wasn't sacked – and he ran for a 1-yard touchdown, on fourth-and-goal. He had ample help, of course. Michael Thomas caught 11 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown, and tight end Jared Cook appeared to be on his way to a huge game (two catches for touchdowns of 38 and 26 yards on the Saints' first two drives) before being sidelined with a concussion he sustained on the second catch. But Brees did to the Niners defense what few quarterback can. He orchestrated a seven-play, 76-yard touchdown drive that ended on an 18-yard pass to Tre'Quan Smith with 53 seconds left, which would've been the game-winner if the defense could've gotten one more stop. It was the Saints' best offensive performance of the season.
DEFENSE: It's hard to be enamored with much of anyone when a unit surrenders six touchdowns, 516 yards and 8.2 yards per play. The Saints have seen better days defensively – much, much better days. We'll go with linebacker Craig Robertson, whose interception was the Saints' lone turnover and set up a field goal. Robertson had eight tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass defensed, too. But in the kind of game that Sunday shaped up to be, where the Saints allowed that many points and yards and committed some costly penalties down the stretch, it's hard to single out anyone for solid play.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Clearly, the Saints wanted to be aggressive in the return game and just as clearly, rookie receiver Deonte Harris was up for the challenge. Harris had five kickoff returns for 155 yards, including a long of 51 yards. But he returned two from five yards deep in the end zone and one from four yards deep. And he returned two punts for 37 yards, including a 25-yarder to set up a touchdown drive. The coaches gave him opportunities to do something with the ball, and he did. He'll pop another kick for a touchdown if they maintain that kind of edge.