That has been the margin of defeat in the New Orleans Saints' first two games, each of which has come down to the final play – the New York Giants kicked a short, game-winning field goal as time expired Sunday at MetLife Stadium, and the Saints missed a long, game-winning field-goal attempt as time expired one week before in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Looks like it might be that kind of season, where nail-biting will be at a premium. Here is a breakdown of the unit performances against New York.
OFFENSE: The Saints offense has had, and will have, better days than it did in Sunday's 16-13 loss. It totaled 288 yards on 59 plays, significantly less than the 500-plus yards and 34 points it rolled to in the season opener. The running game virtually was a non-factor (13 carries for 41 yards, just nine carries for 30 yards by leading rusher Mark Ingram), Drew Brees'29 completions totaled 263 yards and he admittedly didn't handle well some of New York's pressure looks on third down. The Saints were an uncharacteristic three for 13 on third down (23 percent), and that kind of inefficiency will ensure a team struggles to sustain drives and keep the opposing defense on the field. Right tackle Zach Striefexited the game with a chest injury, so that didn't help. After the season opener against Oakland, the expectation wasn't for 500 yards and 30 points per game, but, certainly, for more production than was mustered Sunday. Tough day at the office, but with a high probability of bounce-back in the near future.
DEFENSE: Three field goals allowed, against an offense that features Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruzand Sterling Shepardis about as high-end as a defense can get. In two occasions in which it had its backside parallel to the goal line, the defense managed a pass-breakup in the end zone by cornerback Sterling Mooreon fourth down, and to allow a field goal on a drive that begin first-and-goal at the 1. New Orleans forced its first three turnovers and collected its first two sacks of the season, all in the first half. On the final drive of the game, Moore took a 13-yard pass interference penalty and Cruz beat cornerback Ken Crawleyon a 34-yard reception to the Saints' 2 – still not quite sure how Crawley didn't end up with a pick or PBU – and that helped the Giants to their final field goal, Josh Brown's23-yarder to win the game. But considering it was on the field 75 plays and the Giants had possession for 34:07 – and coming off a game in which Oakland totaled more than 500 yards and 22 fourth-quarter points, the Saints' defense executed its gameplan about as well as it could have. It entered the game without No. 1 cornerback Delvin Breaux, and its next-best corner, P.J. Williams, suffered a head injury on the second defensive series (he was placed on a board and carted off the field; Coach Sean Paytonsaid he expects Williams to be all right). But the defense rallied, kept the Giants in front and tackled well for the most part, and played a game that was deserving of a better outcome. If – a big "if" – it can sustain that level of execution, it'll be fun to watch as the season progresses.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Clearly, something is amiss in the kick-protection phase. Oakland tipped a field-goal attempt last week that maintained enough juice to clear the crossbar, but New York blocked a field-goal attempt Sunday that it returned 65 yards for its only touchdown – a 10-point swing that was gargantuan in a defense-dominated game. In the first two weeks, the Saints possibly have had more kicks touched than a team usually has tipped over the course of an entire 16-game season. With as much work as this team does on special teams in practice, Payton understandably is bothered by that kind of execution. True, the Saints simply could have made enough plays to overcome that bridge. But in a game where opportunities are rare, points are few and mistakes that produce scores are the difference between winning and losing, the block and return was a glaring, game-altering error. The positives accomplished on special teams (Thomas Morstead'spunting, Tommylee Lewis'punt returns and outstanding kick coverage) was overshadowed by the blocked field goal. When teams have small margins for error, errors like that one are extremely difficult to overcome.