There were so many big, clutch plays in the New Orleans Saints' 41-38 win over Carolina on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome that there barely is room enough to name them all.
Drew Brees'87-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooksthat gave the Saints a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, which isn't even his longest touchdown pass to Cooks this season. A 52-yard, game-winning field goal by rookie Wil Lutzwith 11 seconds left, atonement for a missed 53-yard attempt earlier in the game and proof of the moxie that Coach Sean Paytonlauds each time he's asked about Lutz. A 50-yard scoring pass from Brees to tight end Coby Fleenerthat re-established a two-touchdown lead for the Saints at 31-17 with 4:56 left in the third.
All were big, significant plays on a day in which the Saints posted five touchdowns on offense, and needed every one of them – and both field goals – in order to secure the victory.
But as strange as it may sound, the thought here is that a defensive play very well could have been the biggest play in the game. A defensive play in the second quarter, specifically, with the Saints holding a 21-0 lead.
Why that play? Because more than a stop, it kept the Panthers off the scoreboard, and that proved to be critical down the stretch in a game that developed into a shootout, where stops were at a premium.
The Panthers, at first-and-goal from the Saints' 10-yard line on their first sustained drive of the game, already were in field goal range. On a drive that began at their 25, they'd used eight plays and an encroachment penalty to move 65 yards and prepare to dig into the Saints' lead.
That's where cornerback Sterling Moorestepped up, and stepped in.
Moore (5 feet 10, 202 pounds), matched against Panthers receiver Devin Funchess(6-4, 225), first jammed Funchess on his route up the field, then finished the route for Funchess when Carolina quarterback Cam Newtonlooked for his big target near the back line of the end zone. Moore tipped the pass attempt up, then grabbed it and tapped both feet down for an interception with 8:59 left in the first half.
The significance was simple – Moore and the Saints defense directly took points off the board for the Panthers, in a game where points proved precious. Rather than 21-7 or 21-3, the Panthers continued to trail 21-0 because of Moore's stop, a big play that was overshadowed by a plethora of them.