The New Orleans Saints' 20-12 victory over Chicago on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome wasn't clean by any means. But it was a victory, and it was one in which several players still managed to stand out.
OFFENSE:Most times, you think of Drew Breesbeing the choice in this category because of a four-touchdown, 400-yard performance in which he completed 70 percent of his passes and posted a quarterback rating of 130 or higher. This time, it's because Brees really didn't attempt to overdo anything against the Bears. Sure, he completed a couple of shot plays – a 53-yarder to Ted Ginn Jr. in double coverage that was a "trust" throw; a 34-yard, back-shoulder beauty to Alvin Kamara– but for the most part, he had to be patient and take what an outstanding Bears defense gave him. The result: 23 of 28 for 299 yards and no touchdowns, but also, no interceptions. The patience goes hand in hand with the knowledge that during the five-game winning streak, the Saints (5-2) have had a defense that can be trusted to be on the field during closing time. Brees and the offense will improve; the Saints routinely aren't going to be held to 2 of 9 on third down, the season's third-down conversion rate (38.1 percent) is going to get better and not every defense will be capable of holding the Saints to 20 points (though two turnovers likely helped keep down the scoring for New Orleans). But until that happens, it's good to have a quarterback smart enough to understand that he doesn't have to be a hero, that efficiency is enough, until the execution smooths out.
DEFENSE:Safety Kenny Vaccarois lighting it up, and has been for most of this season. Sunday, he led the Saints with a team-high nine tackles (six solo, including a touchdown-saving, one-on-one tackle of Jordan Howard on first-and-goal for Chicago from the 6-yard line in the first quarter), two tackles for loss, a half-sack (shared with defensive end Cam Jordan), a quarterback hit and a pass defensed. His pass breakup came on fourth-and-1, with 1:51 left, and helped the defense give the ball back to the offense. To say Vaccaro has been all over the field would be to understate; defensive coordinator Dennis Allenappears comfortable lining up Vaccaro anywhere on defense, and the five-year veteran is producing from wherever he is positioned. He hasn't been one to allow the defense to bask in the glory, and has said that the unit needs to play well for several seasons before it can feel comfortable accepting accolades. But the defense is playing at a high level, and Vaccaro possibly is playing at his highest, too.
SPECIAL TEAMS:Frankly, Wil Lutzis one of the last players on the team that the Saints want making a tackle. Lutz, we imagine, would agree with that assessment. Because if he's making the tackle, that means there has been a major breakdown on coverage. And that was the case Sunday: Lutz, as perhaps the last line of defense, with Chicago's Tarik Cohen speeding toward him in a seam after Lutz's kickoff, following his field goal that gave New Orleans a 20-12 lead. Lutz did a great job of helping angle Cohen to the sideline and once there, Lutz made the stop to end a 46-yard kickoff return. Sure, he committed a horse-collar, personal-foul penalty on the play, which gave the Bears first down at the Saints' 42. But better a horse collar than a house call; if Cohen would have scored, the Bears would have been a two-point conversion away from tying the game. Lutz wasn't bad in his traditional role, either, with two field goals (45- and 49-yarders) and a couple of successful point-after attempts.