It's not often that a defensive play of significance can be lauded as game-altering in a 48-41 decision. More likely, the absence of defense is what mainly is noted, and that river of thought flowed freely in the aftermath of the New Orleans Saints' win over Arizona at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday.
But it wasn't one big defensive play that jumps to mind for the Saints in the game that raised their record to 6-8. Actually, two of them stand out.
New Orleans trailed 7-3 after countering Arizona's game-opening touchdown drive with Wil Lutz's37-yard field goal, and Arizona's next drive began on its 26 after Brittan Johnson's26-yard kickoff return. David Johnson's4-yard run on first down had the Cardinals at second-and-6 from the 30 when quarterback Carson Palmerthrew a pass to receiver Larry Fitzgeraldin the left flat.
Fitzgerald wove back into traffic but in doing so, didn't account for Saints defensive end Paul Kruger, who hustled in as a trailer and stripped the ball from Fitzgerald. Linebacker Craig Robertsonrecovered at the 30 to give the Saints possession and seven plays later – plus a face-mask penalty against Cards linebacker Markus Goldenon third-and-11 from the Arizona 20-yard line, to keep alive the drive – New Orleans scored on a 10-yard pass from Drew Breesto Travaris Cadet to take a 10-7 lead.
A similar defensive strike was needed, and provided, in the fourth quarter.
The Saints led 41-34, courtesy of a 4-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Michael Thomas, in what* *now had become a shootout. The teams had traded scoring drives on five consecutive possessions – Saints field goal, Cards touchdown, Saints touchdown, Cards touchdown, Saints touchdown – before Arizona began a drive at its 25-yard line with 5:33 left.
After Palmer twice threw incomplete deep on passes intended for receiver J.J. Nelson, he connected with Golden on third-and-10. But after a 5-yard gain Saints safety Vonn Bellseparated Golden from the football, and cornerback Ken Crawleyemerged from the pile with possession at the Arizona 29.
The Saints usedanother third-down penalty on Arizona – this time, linebacker Sio Mooreroughed Brees during what would have been an 11-yard sack on third-and-8 from the 27 – and when Tim Hightowerran off left tackle to score his second touchdown with 3:27 left, it gave the Saints a two-touchdown lead (48-34), a cushion that Arizona couldn't overcome.
It was a game in which the offenses left lasting impressions, especially New Orleans' (six touchdowns and 488 yards, including four touchdown passes and 389 passing yards on a 37-for-48 performance by Brees).
But those two defensive plays led to two, short-field touchdowns for the Saints. And they helped stifle Arizona's momentum each time.