The New Orleans Saints take on the Miami Dolphins at the Caesars Superdome in Week 16 of the 2021 NFL season.
In no way, shape or form did the New Orleans Saints defense not carry its water in a 20-3 loss to Miami on Monday night in the Caesars Superdome.
The unit allowed 13 points, 259 yards, intercepted a pass, sacked Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa three times and muscled up for stops on 10 of 15 third-down attempts. It wasn't as pristine as it was in a shutout of Tampa Bay the previous game, but it was pretty close.
But one good play needed to be a great play, given the reality that not much assistance likely was to be provided by the offense. It might not even have prevented the loss – the Saints trailed 7-0 at the time, and only could muster a field goal in the game – but it might have helped flipped the momentum.
New Orleans was down a touchdown after rookie quarterback Ian Book threw an interception that was returned 28 yards for a touchdown on his third NFL play. And when the Saints' offense went three-and-out on its next series, the defense was called upon to shut down Miami again, as it had on the opening drive.
It wasn't able to do so for much of a drive that began at Miami's 31-yard line with 8:51 left in the first quarter. Five minutes and 43 seconds later, the Dolphins were facing third-and-4 from the Saints' 14, looking to score another touchdown and take a sizable lead against a depleted opponent.
But on third down, with Tagovailoa taking a snap from shotgun formation, Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport was at his destructive best, blasting up the middle in his pass rush and meeting Tagovailoa face to face at the 19. The jolt from the sack produced a fumble that bounced backward, and newly signed defensive tackle Braxton Hoyett attempted to size it up for a scoop and possible score, rather than fall on it as quickly as possible.
While Hoyett hesitated, Dolphins left guard Austin Jackson didn't; he smothered the ball at the 30-yard line. And rather than a turnover, Miami turned the good fortune into a successful 48-yard field goal by Jason Sanders and a 10-0 lead with 2:09 left in the first.
Possibly – maybe likely – the Saints' defense could have pitched a shutout the rest of the game and Miami still had already scored enough points to win. But that good play, which could have transformed into a great play, might have been enough to provide the bump New Orleans' offense couldn't generate for itself.