Indianapolis – The New Orleans Saints unleashed an almost-perfect storm in the first half, finished with the Quiet Storm in the fourth quarter, and rode out the waters when Indianapolis made them choppy on Sunday in a 27-21 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The second consecutive victory for the Saints (3-4) morphed from a blowout to a nail-biter, but their first two-game winning streak since Games 7 and 8 of last season gave New Orleans three victories in its last four games, as the team continues to lift itself from an 0-3 start.
"It was a good win for us on the road," Coach Sean Payton said. "You tip your hat to Indianapolis, they did a good job of fighting back and we did some things that we'll learn from on the tape. But (it was) a good road win."
The Saints took a 20-0 halftime lead (which grew to 27-0 in the third quarter) in part by forcing three turnovers (two interceptions of Andrew Luck and a fumble recovery) and posting a couple of sacks by defensive end Cam Jordan, and rolling up 119 of their 269 yards of offense, and two of their three touchdowns, on the ground.
Then, they watched the Colts (3-4) mount a furious rally behind 87- and 46-yard touchdown passes from Luck to receiver T.Y. Hilton, and pull to within 27-21 on Donte Moncrief's 8-yard touchdown catch with 3:05 left.
But New Orleans never gave back the ball, closing out Indianapolis on a 20-yard pass from Drew Brees to Marques "Quiet Storm" Colston on third-and-4 from the Colts' 47-yard line, with 2:09 left.
Three Brees kneel downs milked the final seconds, and the Saints exited with a chance to even their record at 4-4 in Sunday's game against the New York Giants at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. New Orleans hasn't been at .500 since its two-game winning streak last season lifted it to 4-4.
"When you have a chance to win the game, you want to make a play to win the game," said Brees, who completed 28 of 44 passes for 255 yards and a touchdown, with an interception. "Can't say enough about Marques – big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, and he's a big-time player. He knew it was coming his way, and it was awesome."
It followed a play-to-win tone of aggression by the Saints.
On another fourth-quarter drive, after New Orleans had been pinned at its 1-yard line by a 45-yard punt by Indy's Pat McAfee and gained two yards on a Brees incompletion and connection, Brees hooked up with Brandin Cooks on a 47-yard completion down the right sideline with 8:54 left to flip the field position.
"It just felt like it was the right time," Brees said. "Go over there (to the sideline during an injury break) and Sean and I are talking, and I said, 'Let's just run by these guys. Let's throw a 'Go.'
"We dialed it up and Brandin ran underneath and that flipped the field. It changes the momentum and it does a lot for you. We're going to play aggressive and we know we have the guys to do it."
And in the first quarter, the Saints moved into position to score their first touchdown on another daring call. Following a failed challenge of an incomplete pass to Benjamin Watson – the Saints' second failed challenge on the drive, relieving them of two timeouts and the ability to challenge later in the game – New Orleans lined up on the right hash mark for a 44-yard field goal attempt by new kicker Kai Forbath.
Instead, on fourth-and-9 from the Colts' 26-yard line, holder (and backup quarterback) Luke McCown sprung up, ran left, squared his shoulders and lofted a 25-yard pass to Watson, who was pushed out of bounds at the 1.
Running back Khiry Robinson scored on the next play, and the Saints led 7-0.
"It's something that (special teams coordinator) Greg (McMahon) came to me with," Payton said. "We spent some time with it, we looked at it and felt like we were getting a pretty consistent look. It had to be on the right hash (mark).
"Ironically, we were waiting on a challenge and had we won the challenge, we'd have been left hash, fourth down and a yard, yard-and-a-half. We wouldn't have run the same play. In the back of my mind was if we win this challenge, you go for it here on fourth down and if not, you're on the right hash."
The Saints were on the right side of things most of the game.
The defense forced three-and-outs on the Colts' first two possessions, and rookie linebacker Stephone Anthony intercepted Luck on first down and returned it five yards to the Colts 23-yard line to end Indy's third drive.
New Orleans' five-play touchdown drive leaked over into the second quarter, with Robinson scoring on a 6-yard run four seconds into the quarter to boost the lead to 14-0.
Linebacker David Hawthorne stripped Colts returner Griff Whalen on a 30-yard return of the ensuing kickoff, and cornerback Kyle Wilson recovered and returned it four yards to the Indy 27-yard line. Three plays later, on first down from the 16, Brees threw a touchdown pass to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, his first as a Saint, and the lead swelled to 20-0 despite Forbath's missed extra-point attempt.
The Saints didn't score again in the half, squandering an opportunity after reaching Indy's 2-yard line following a 44-yard run by Mark Ingram.
Tight end Josh Hill committed offensive pass interference to erase his touchdown grab on first down, Ingram ran for 4 on first-and-goal from the 12, Brees threw incomplete for Willie Snead on second down and Brees was intercepted in the back of the end zone by cornerback Vontae Davis on third down, with 3:22 left in the half.
"I really didn't like how, the sequence right at the end of the first half – we have a chance, we're down at the 2, we get an offensive pass interference, another play, another play, a turnover," Payton said. "Then we're in a two-minute drill (right before halftime) – there were some things, with a lead already, that we could have done better.
"But it's a good football team, a tough place to play with them coming off a home loss. We did a lot of things well and we'll make the corrections on the things we didn't."
Luck and Hilton hooked up twice in the third quarter for touchdowns, with Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux falling down in coverage on each. And the touchdown pass to Moncrief capped a seven-play, 80-yard drive that lasted just 54 seconds and gave the Colts a chance.
But the Saints recovered the onside kick, Brees and Colston connected for 20 yards to seal the deal and New Orleans benefitted from an improved running game (183 yards and three touchdowns, with Mark Ingram running for 143 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries) and its lockdown defense from the first half.
"I think we came in with a very diverse run game, and it helped everybody," said Ingram, who snapped off the team's three longest runs – 44, 35 and 20 yards. "The offensive line did a tremendous job. I can't have a game like that without them. They did a great job getting a hat on a hat, having seams for me to run through and I just had to make a guy miss in the open field and we had some big games."
The Saints held the Colts to 75 rushing yards on 13 carries, well below the average of 138 per game they'd allowed before Sunday, and Jordan led the attack on Luck with his two sacks, giving him five in his last two games.
"I can't be more proud of the D-line and the way we're playing right now," Jordan said.
"(But) you can't be too excited. We're still 3-4. We've still got a long way to go. There's some good things that happened in the first half, but there are some negative things that happened in the second half. So that's something that we have to get under control."