Check out the Saints vs. Broncos action at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
OFFENSE: In particular, one number suggests that the New Orleans Saints probably shouldn't even have been in Sunday's game against Denver in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, much less in position to take the lead with 82 seconds left and possibly win it with one last defensive stand. New Orleans committed four turnovers – two interceptions by quarterback Drew Breesin the first half, two lost fumbles by rookie receiver Michael Thomas in the second half – and that number often signals a lopsided outcome. Even though the Saints forced a couple of turnovers (two interceptions), four turnovers is a ton to overcome. So give them credit, they flipped a switch at halftime and recovered from a miserable first half; Brees, specifically, turned it up several notches, completing 13 of 15 passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters, after going 8-for-14 for 109 yards and two interceptions in the first half. All three touchdown drives were along the lines of what we've come to expect from the Saints: a seven-play, 90-yard drive that lasted 3:50 and ended on a 3-yard pass from Brees to Willie Snead; a four-play, 38-yard snippet that lasted 98 seconds and ended on a 5-yard hookup between Brees and Snead and a six-play, 75-yard march that ended on Brees' 32-yard pass to Brandin Cooksthat pulled the Saints into a tie at 23. But the four turnovers were costly. Safety Darian Stewarthad three of them (two interceptions and a fumble recovery), and they led to 13 points by Denver. In a 25-23 decision, it's easy to see from whence Denver's victory margin came.
DEFENSE: This was a hard-luck loss for the Saints defense, which continues to show improvement. It allowed two touchdowns and three field goals, and one of those touchdowns and two of the field goals were surrendered after the Saints offense committed turnovers. New Orleans accomplished much of what it hoped to accomplish defensively. It shut down Denver on the ground (37 carries for 103 yards for the Broncos). It forced a couple of turnovers (cornerback Sterling Mooreintercepted a Trevor Siemianpass in the second quarter, and safety Kenny Vaccaropicked him off in the third). And it got after Siemian to the tune of six sacks (one each by Vaccaro, Cam Jordan, Nick Fairley, Craig Robertson, Dannell Ellerbeand Sheldon Rankins) and 11 quarterback hurries. The Saints also had six passes defensed. It wasn't as effective as it wanted to be on third down (Denver converted 11 of 19 attempts), but Denver's red-zone efficiency was 40 percent (two of five) and the Saints kept the Broncos out of the end zone when they needed to do so.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Two Wil Lutzkicks have been blocked this season, and each has been extremely costly. The first was a field-goal attempt that was returned for a touchdown by the Giants in a 16-13 victory by New York. The second was Sunday, and when his point-after attempt was blocked – after the Saints pulled into a tie a 23-23 with 82 seconds remaining – and returned for a game-winning two-point conversion by Denver, it gave the game a bizarre ending, to say the least. Denver rookie free safety Justin Simmonshurdled Saints long snapper Justin Dreschercleanly (if he'd touched any Saints player, it would have been a penalty) and blocked the kick. The carom perfectly bounced to rookie strong safety Will Parks, who ran untouched down the left sideline for the conversion. It's a block play that NFL teams are employing more and more (Seattle successfully has used it several times), but it was a look that the Saints should have recognized, Coach Sean Paytonsaid. He's probably right, given that the Broncos had nothing to lose by selling out for the block; whether Lutz had made the PAT, or if the Broncos had been penalized and the Saints had opted to go for 2 and been successful, the Broncos still would've needed a field goal to win the game. So there was no reason for Denver to concede the point. It didn't, and for the second time this season a breakdown in the kicking game dearly has cost the Saints.