There weren’t scores of defensive plays for the New Orleans Saints to celebrate in their 30-28, season-opening victory over Houston on Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
There were some impressive numbers – six sacks, 11 quarterback hits, seven tackles for loss, a pair of passes defensed – that helped offset a handful of less attractive ones (414 yards allowed, 7 of 13 third-down attempts converted by Houston, 7.8 yards per rush attempt, touchdowns allowed on both red-zone attempts).
But there weren’t many “signature” ones, except, perhaps, the one that may have been the most pivotal defensive play for New Orleans.
The Texans scored touchdowns on three consecutive offensive possessions on series’ that leaked from the second quarter into the third, until the Saints defense rose up and made the stop that squashed that momentum and put the team in position to take its first lead.
With the Texans leading 21-17 and their drive beginning at their 16-yard line, Houston managed just two yards on the first two downs before facing third-and-8 from the 18. From there, quarterback Deshaun Watson took the snap in the shotgun and saw receiver Will Fuller V behind cornerback P.J. Williams down the right sideline.
That, apparently, is exactly what the Saints wanted Watson to believe he saw.
The deception was free safety Marcus Williams, rotating over while playing center field.
Williams got a great jump on the pass, sprinted over and plucked it away at the Saints’ 36-yard line with 1:48 left in the third quarter, giving New Orleans its first defensive stop since the first quarter. When Texans receiver Deandre Hopkins picked up an unnecessary roughness penalty for body slamming Williams to the turf after the pick, New Orleans began its next drive at the Texans' 49-yard line.
Four plays later, the Saints took their first lead of the game on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Tre’Quan Smith, a 24-21 advantage with 14:55 left, that helped put the Saints in position to win the game on Wil Lutz’s 58-yard field goal as time expired.