As usual, there were an avalanche of subplots for the New Orleans Saints in their 31-19 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. New Orleans scored on its first three possessions (a field goal and two touchdowns), then couldn't score because it was its own worst enemy (three turnovers), then scored touchdowns on two of its final three possessions. Defensively, the Saints made Bryce Petty look like a quarterback who was making his fifth NFL start, but also bailed out the Jets offense with a couple of pass interference penalties, an unsportsmanlike conduct and an encroachment on defense. They didn't make it easy on themselves, but a couple of players were instrumental in helping keep New Orleans (10-4) in first place in the NFC South Division.
OFFENSE: Yes, Mark Ingram II ran for 74 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries – he has career highs in rushing yards (1,045) and rushing touchdowns (11) this season – and also caught five passes for 77 yards. And, yes, Alvin Kamara added another 89 yards rushing and receiving, and scored his team-leading 12th touchdown (he's one short of George Rogers' franchise rookie record of 13, set in 1981). But Michael Thomas is just beastly. On a day the Saints were without Ted Ginn Jr. (inactive because of injured ribs), Thomas caught nine passes for 93 yards and a touchdown as the main receiving threat. He's the second player in NFL history with 90 or more catches in his first two seasons (Odell Beckham Jr. is the other) and has 94 receptions with two games remaining; no Saints player ever has had a 100-catch season. His imprint on the game? With the Saints leading 17-13 early in the fourth quarter, Thomas caught a 17-yard pass on third-and-7 from his own 39, a 20-yard pass on the next play, a 9-yarder two plays later and then a 4-yard slant for his touchdown and a 24-13 Saints lead. Twice before in the game, replay erased potential touchdowns (once, he was down before crossing the goal line and once, his toe of his second foot tapped down over the line at the back of the end zone). But Drew Brees keeps going back to him because Thomas is reliable and productive; he claims ownership over every pass thrown in his direction.
DEFENSE: You won't ever see many one-tackle games that were as impactful as the one-tackle game that defensive end Cam Jordan submitted Sunday. He batted down four passes – three of them on third down – and knocked down another pass on a two-point conversion attempt against the Jets. He wasn't as disruptive in terms of sacking the quarterback and forcing him to dance, but four official batted passes, and another on a conversion attempt, illustrate how smart Jordan plays the game and highlight the fact that there are other ways to affect the passing game besides hits on a quarterback. That doesn't mean I'm ignoring rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore (an interception, three passes defensed and five tackles) or linebacker Craig Robertson (an interception, a pass defensed and seven tackles). But Jordan has a feel for things, and it shows. He can be dominant in a variety of ways.
SPECIAL TEAMS: I have to spread the wealth on this one. Given that there were no "game-changing" things that jumped out to the naked eye, the steadiness of the overall group did stand out. Tommylee Lewis had a 17-yard punt return to give New Orleans nice field position to start a 64-yard touchdown drive; Chris Banjo and Taysom Hill had nice tackles on punt and kickoff coverage, respectively (and Hill continues to flirt with blocking a punt); and Thomas Morstead had a 46.8-yard net average on four punts, with one downed inside the 20. Solid always is better than the alternative.