Sometimes, the confidence doesn’t come so much from the damage caused by the punch, as it does from the boldness required to throw the punch.
On Sunday, though, in the New Orleans Saints’ 31-21 victory over Carolina in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, it was both. The willingness to throw the blow was supported by the execution of it, and the totality of the statement was the Saints’ belief that toe to toe, they could take the measure of the Panthers.
And they made the statement on the opening drive of the game.
New Orleans drove from its 30-yard line to the Carolina 2 in 10 plays, where it found itself fourth-and-goal with 10:21 left in the first quarter. But rather than accept the near-guaranteed three points that would have come in the form of a 20-yard field goal from Wil Lutz, Saints Coach Sean Payton eschewed the “gimme” and chose to make a statement.
Payton said he had a play that he liked, and that play was a pitch to rookie running back Alvin Kamara around the right end. Superb blocking along the line kept the Panthers bottled up for the most part, and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui provided a fantastic kick-out block at the goal line.
Still, though, Kamara had to do his part. And Carolina linebacker Shaq Thompson was standing in the way of him doing it.
Kamara cut inside Hooman’s block and met Thompson at the goal line and there, Kamara showed that for all the flash and dash he possesses in his running style, he’ll transition into a power runner when necessary. That’s what he did when he ran through Thompson – the latter bounced off the determined Kamara, and Kamara tumbled into the end zone for a touchdown and 7-0 lead for the Saints.
More, though, the play call and score were indicative of the Saints’ unwillingness to settle, and their willingness to match and exceed any force Carolina believed it could impose.