We won't know how special Sunday's victory was for the New Orleans Saints, a 34-31 overtime thriller in which they rallied from a 31-16, fourth-quarter deficit, until the season totally has played out. But the team's eighth consecutive win, after an 0-2 start, definitely was its most exciting: It was the first time in franchise history that the Saints have won a game in which they trailed by 15-plus points at any time in the fourth quarter, and made them the first team to win a game after trailing by 15-plus points with less than three minutes remaining in the fourth since Denver, in 2011 against Miami. And we also know that victories like Sunday's produce myriad players worthy of helmet stickers.
OFFENSE:A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that the Saints no longer needed quarterback Drew Breesto transform into Captain Save A Saint in order for the team to win. He still doesn't, but it sure is comforting to know that Brees remembers where he stored his cape when the time comes for such heroics. The sheer volume of numbers is impressive; he completed 29 of 41 passes for 385 yards and two touchdowns, with an interception, while being battered and harassed (two sacks, seven times hit). But the clutch numbers were alien: In the fourth quarter, Brees completed 11 of 12 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns, with the two scoring throws occurring in the final 2:53. His greatness routinely has been taken for granted, but it never should be. Honorable mention to running back Mark Ingram, who possibly will earn another award this week after 11 carries for 134 yards and a touchdown, and three catches for 21 yards. With six games regular-season games remaining, Ingram has 806 yards and eight touchdowns on 155 carries; in 16 games last season, he had a career-high 1,043 yards and six touchdowns on 205 carries.
DEFENSE:The Saints have been without safety Kenny Vaccaro(groin) for two consecutive games. Vonn Bellhas helped make sure that the train keeps rolling without him. Sunday was another standout day for Bell, who has a nose for the action and doesn't mind punishing opposing players one bit. Three notable plays against Washington to pull off his resume: a combined tackle with defensive tackle Sheldon Rankinson Kirk Cousins' third-and-3 scramble in the third quarter, holding Cousins to a 2-yard gain; another combo tackle, with linebacker Manti Te'o, for a one-yard loss on a third-and-1 in the fourth quarter, to force a punt while the Saints were trailing 31-23; and a blindside blitz that resulted in a sack and forced fumble (Washington recovered) on the final play of regulation, when the Saints' defense needed one more stop to force overtime. Bell finished with a game-high 13 tackles, a sack, a quarterback hit and forced fumble. A full day, indeed.
SPECIAL TEAMS:The easy out here is kicker Wil Lutz, who made all four of his field-goal attempts, including the 28-yard, game-winner in overtime. Lutz was clutch all day, beginning with a 52-yarder in the first quarter that gave New Orleans its first points. But Tommylee Lewisgave the Saints a little punch in the return game, and it was a noticeable difference for the team, which hasn't had much to smile about in that area of its special teams. Lewis returned two punts for 38 yards – a 24-yarder with 11:21 left in regulation that set up a 27-yard drive that resulted in Lutz's 42-yard field goal, and a 14-yarder in overtime that preceded two Ingram runs for 51 yards, which led to Lutz's game-winner. As a replacement for Ted Ginn Jr. on punt returns, it was a good day for Lewis, who also returned three kickoffs for 62 yards. He'll likely want to use a little better judgment on the kickoff returns, but the aggression was a good sign.