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John DeShazier: Key Saints performers vs. Broncos

Saints offensive line played great

OFFENSE: After a first-half that nearly was disastrous by Drew Breesstandards (8 of 14 passing for 109 yards and two interceptions), the New Orleans Saints quarterback was vintage Drew Brees in the second half (13 of 15 for 194 yards and three touchdowns) as the Saints worked themselves in position to beat Denver. And he got a huge lift from receiver Brandin Cooks, who shook free in the fourth quarter to catch two passes for 61 yards, including a leaping 32-yard touchdown reception between two defenders, pulling the Saints into a 23-23 tie with 82 seconds left and boosting his numbers to three catches for 98 yards against the Broncos. But this sticker gets split into six pieces, an equal share for the six offensive linemen who walled off Denver's fierce pass rush and gave Brees time to raise his quarterback rating from 42.6 at halftime to 111.7 for the game. Left tackle Andrus Peat, left guard Senio Kelemete(who temporarily was sidelined and replaced by Tim Lelito), center Max Unger, right guard Jahri Evansand right tackle Zach Strieftcombined to allow one sack and four quarterback hurries. Denver entered the game with 28 sacks, and was limiting opponents to a league-low 183.3 passing yards per game. New Orleans also ran for 80 yards on 21 carries, as the line had one of its best days this season considering the caliber of the opposition.

DEFENSE: Defensive end Cam Jordanwas a beast Sunday, almost unblockable. The Saints arguably had their best defensive showing this season, and Jordan led the effort from start to finish. He finished with nine tackles (eight solo), a sack, three tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries. He seemed to spend about as much time in Denver's backfield as did Broncos running backs, and his pressure on Trevor Siemianled to the Denver quarterback's second interception, one that safety Kenny Vaccaroreturned 30 yards to the Bronco 38-yard line, leading to a Saints lead-taking touchdown in the third quarter. Jordan is one of the league's best every-down linemen, equally effective against the run or pass, but Sunday probably was his most disruptive game this season. Vaccaro wasn't far behind (seven solo tackles, a sack, two hurries, an interception and two passes defensed), but Jordan was front and center.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Really, the end-of-game sequence overshadowed any potential positives for the Saints on special teams. The cover teams were better – Denver didn't return a kickoff because Wil Lutzproduced three touchbacks, and two punt returns by Jordan Norwoodtotaled 17 yards. Receiver Jake Lampmanmade another special teams tackle for the Saints, but their own return game was nondescript – Tim Hightowerpopped a 31-yard kickoff return, but hesitancy led to a 14-yard kickoff return on his next attempt, and Cooks and Jairus Byrdeach returned a punt for two yards. And, of course, there was the game-ender – the perfectly timed hurdle by Denver free safety Justin Simmonsover Saints long snapper Justin Drescher, allowing Simmons to block Lutz's potentially lead-taking point-after attempt with 1:22 left, and strong safety Will Parkscollecting the perfect bounce and racing down the left sideline for the game-winning two-point conversion. It was a cruel end to a day in which the Saints almost were able to overcome four turnovers, and it was the second kick that Lutz has had blocked this season (a field-goal attempt against New York was blocked and returned for a touchdown).

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