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John DeShazier: New Orleans Saints-San Diego Chargers game breakdown

Saints made plays when they had to

OFFENSE: The New Orleans Saints have seen, and will see, better days offensively. Less than 300 yards of total offense (275) and less than 200 yards net passing (191) aren't at all what we're accustomed to seeing from this unit. But give credit where it's due: First, the Saints scored touchdowns rather than field goals and took advantage of their short-field situations with scoring drives of 48, 13 and 31 yards. Second, they were efficient on third down for the second consecutive game (11 for 18, after converting seven of 13 times against Atlanta). And third, the Saints refused to abandon the run. Their 34 attempts only gained 84 yards (including the three kneel-downs for minus-3 yards to finish the game) but the pounding helped build a time of possession advantage of 32:39-27:21. Fullback John Kuhnhad a near-dream game for a fullback – three touchdowns scored on five touches (three runs, two receptions) – and Drew Brees(23 of 36 for 206 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions) won in Qualcomm Stadium in his first appearance there since his playing days as a Charger, from 2001-05. But, absolutely, the Saints offense feels it left some plays on the field despite a 35-34 victory. That's a good thing, something to build on during the bye week.

DEFENSE: Forget style points. The Saints defense got the stops they needed when they needed them, and produced turnovers on three consecutive San Diego possessions to end the game. No way is the team celebrating a comeback win on the road, a game it was losing by 13 points (34-21, with 8:49 left) if the defense doesn't buckle down and force the Chargers to cough up the ball. True, the Chargers were lax in ball security, lamenting that they "gave" away the game. But the Saints had similar feelings after at least two of their first three losses this season, and no one was throwing pity parties for them. And the fact remains that the opponent still has to make the plays to capitalize on the errors, which is exactly what the Saints did defensively. New Orleans was stout against the run (San Diego had 38 rushing yards on 21 carries) and although Philip Riverspassed for 321 yards and two touchdowns, he also was sacked three times and intercepted once. Safeties Kenny Vaccaroand Vonn Bellcollaborated to force a fumble that was recovered by defensive end Darryl Tappwith 6:40 left, which the Saints converted into a touchdown. Linebacker Nate Stupar(a game-high eight tackles in his starting role) recovered Travis Benjamin'sfumble almost two minutes later (4:42 left) to set up the offense at San Diego's 31-yard line, for what would become the game-winning touchdown drive. And cornerback B.W. Webbgathered in the Saints' first interception of the season, on Rivers' fourth-and-22 pass from San Diego's 13-yard line, to seal the victory (Rivers was sacked on first down by defensive tackle Nick Fairley). Defensively, the Saints got what they needed, when they needed it. Consequently, they got their first win of the season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: No better words can be typed for the unit than these: The Saints had a quiet day on special teams. No tipped, blocked or missed field-goal attempts. No long returns allowed. No bumping into the punt returner and losing a fumble. Just, silence – other than Thomas Morstead'sbooming punts (five, for a 51.2-yard gross average and a 45.2-yard net, including a 62-yarder that was downed at the Chargers' 4-yard line). San Diego was able to return three punts for a 10-yard average and two kickoffs for a 25.5-yard average. Otherwise, the silence was golden.

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