The bottom line is this: The New Orleans Saints have won three straight, courtesy of Sunday's 52-38 victory over Detroit in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, to push them above .500 (3-2) for the first time since the 2013 season. Too, the race is on in the NFC South Division and they're right in the middle of it; Carolina leads the pack at 4-2, and every team in the division has at least two losses. So all the peripheral trimmings around Sunday's win – New Orleans didn't finish the way it wanted to after taking a 45-10 lead, it committed three turnovers and 13 penalties – are issues that can be addressed after a huge win. And, undoubtedly, it's a lot more pleasant to address issues after victories than after losses. Here's the breakdown from Sunday:
OFFENSE: There were times Sunday when the Saints were a well-oiled machine. They scored on four consecutive possessions in the first half (three touchdowns and a field goal) and three of those drives covered 75, 69 and 75 yards, respectively. In the first game since trading running back Adrian Peterson, the Saints gashed the Lions for 193 rushing yards on 37 carries (Mark Ingram II ran for 114 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, and Alvin Kamara had 10 carries for 75 yards). But the offense stagnated in the second half. All three turnovers were committed in the second and third quarters and after New Orleans scored on its second possession of the second half, it was unable to sustain any drives to help out the defense. One of Drew Brees' two interceptions was returned for a touchdown and Ingram's lost fumble led to a touchdown drive by Detroit. The Saints were 2 of 12 on third down; three turnovers and 17 percent conversion on third down usually aren't a winning combination. Fortunately on Sunday, there wasn't much following of a traditional script.
DEFENSE: First, don't be deceived by 38 points allowed. The Lions scored on an interception return and on a punt return, so that skewed the numbers. Second, the Saints' defense is in a really good groove right now, the kind that has led the team to three consecutive wins and can continue to lead it while the offense finds and sustains a rhythm. The Saints scored three defensive touchdowns for the first time in franchise history (defensive end Cam Jordan and rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore scored on interceptions, and safety Kenny Vaccaro scored on a fumble recovery in the end zone, caused by Alex Okafor's sack of Matthew Stafford). They sacked Stafford five times (two by Jordan). They forced five turnovers (Vaccaro also chipped in a fumble recovery, as did linebacker Craig Robertson), and they defensed 16 passes (unofficially, they batted down 12 pass attempts). And they allowed just 347 yards, with Stafford throwing 52 passes. Clear the smoke from the scoreboard, and what was left was that the Saints did a fabulous job of stifling a very good offense. This defense is confident, and it shows.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Not a good day in coverage. Not at all. Jamal Agnew, the NFL leader in punt return average (22.1 yards on seven returns) entering the game, popped the Saints for a 74-yard touchdown return in the fourth quarter and averaged 26.5 yards on four punt returns. The Saints were well aware of Detroit's prowess as a punt-return team, and still allowed a homer. Now, the unit did impact the game later in the fourth; Thomas Morstead's 57-yard punt was muffed by Agnew, who recovered and was tackled at the 1 by defensive back Justin Hardee with 5:23 left. Two plays later, Jordan batted to himself Stafford's pass from the end zone, caught it and provided the final points. But Coach Sean Payton specifically noted that the punt coverage was poor, after having several solid games in that area. There's some cleaning to do on that unit, and it won't help if linebacker Nate Stupar, who exited the game late with an injury, will be unavailable for any length of time.
Check out the on-field action as the Saints host the Lions in Week 6.