It's no stretch to say that New Orleans Saints fans have longed to see the play-making skills that Jairus Byrddisplayed as a standout safety for Buffalo, when his 22 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries from 2009-13 helped make him a two-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler.
But they haven't longed to see Byrd play to his abilities as much as he has, which likely made Saturday's game all the more rewarding for Byrd, who has battled injuries for much of the time since he joined the Saints as a free agent signee in 2014.
Byrd had two interceptions against Tampa Bay in New Orleans’ 31-24 victory in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but his first pick was the one that might have swung the game in the Saints' favor.
Tampa Bay trailed 13-7 at halftime and opened the second half with possession after winning the opening coin toss, but deferring to receive the kickoff until the second half.
On the kickoff, receiver Josh Huffmade a mess of things by mishandling the ball and being tackled at the Buccaneers' 4-yard line by De'Vante Harris. That put Tampa Bay in a hole, and that predicament deepened on first down, when Jacquizz Rodgerswas tackled for a 1-yard loss by Saints defensive end Paul Kruger.
On second down, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winstonlofted a pass deep down the left sideline intended for receiver Mike Evans. But Byrd read the play from inception; he rotated over and plucked his first interception since Nov. 29, 2015, at the Bucs' 38-yard line and returned it 24 yards to the 14.
On the next play, Saints running back Mark Ingramran untouched off right guard for a touchdown and a 20-7 lead for the Saints.
Byrd's interception gave the Saints a short-field possession early in the second half (Ingram scored just 59 seconds into the third quarter) and helped give the Saints a cushion that they managed from there. And it likely helped Byrd feel a lot more like his former self, the player that he has been and believes he again can be.