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John DeShazier: Chris Banjo's experience paying off for New Orleans Saints

Chris Banjo isn’t a member of the New Orleans Saints’ 53-man roster solely as a special teams ace, even if that’s where the four-year veteran mainly has earned his keep.

Like most special team contributors outside the kicker and punter, Banjo was a two-for-one deal – a specialist capable of contributing at his position group, specifically, safety.

And he provided the Saints with the perfect example of that last Thursday night in Atlanta, when Banjo produced the first interception of his NFL career, which led to a touchdown drive in the Saints’ 20-17 loss to the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Banjo picked off Matt Ryan’s pass attempt on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter – the second of three consecutive Falcons series’ that the Saints ended with interceptions – at the Falcons' 29-yard line. Four plays later, Drew Brees threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas to give New Orleans a 17-10 lead.

“Just executing the play that was called and finishing on the ball,” he said. “We always emphasize that.

“(The interception was) big time, and then the offense was able to score on the drive after. So it’s big. Any time we can get the ball back to our offense with good field position, I think is great.”

The interception was significant not only because it was Banjo’s first, or because it led to a touchdown. But the play also was noteworthy because Banjo stepped into the fray after the Saints lost safety Kenny Vaccaro (groin) to injury, and the secondary didn’t miss a beat against the Atlanta passing attack and Ryan, who was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player last season.

“I feel like that just comes a little bit with experience,” Banjo said. “I feel like I’ve been around long enough to know that anything can happen in any game. So you’ve always got to continue to stay ready. I’m an all-hands-on-deck type of guy. Whatever is asked of me to help the team, I’m always down to do. So I always try to anticipate myself getting ready to go in the game and executing.

“I always want to play on defense. As long as God allows me to be in the league, I definitely always want to play as many snaps as I can on defense. But at the same time, I’m always doing everything I can to help the team win. Whatever aspect is asked of me to do, that’s what I want to do. The unfortunate thing about last game is that we weren’t able to pull it out.”

But a special team play did help the Saints pull out their previous game, a 31-21 victory over Carolina on Dec. 3.

Banjo forced a fumble on a punt return in the fourth quarter; linebacker Craig Robertson recovered and the Saints drove for a field goal that widened their lead to 31-14.

The competitor in him strives for more snaps on defense. The desire to win strives to be a part of the success.

“All I’ve got to do is, whatever opportunity is there for me to be on the defense, is continue to show my value, show my worth and just help our team win. And that’s all that I’m about,” he said.

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