The New Orleans Saints' defense maybe had an inkling before linebacker Demario Davis stoned Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson for no gain on fourth-and-1 from the New England 33-yard line with 7:22 left in the game Sunday.
But that play seemed to encapsulate New Orleans' grudging reluctance to allow yards or points at Gillette Stadium, as the Saints (3-2) posted a shutout for the third consecutive season with their 34-0 victory over the Patriots. The Saints beat Las Vegas 24-0 last season, and shut out Tampa Bay 9-0 in 2021.
New Orleans allowed 156 yards, produced stops on 13 of 14 third-down attempts and both fourth-down tries, forced three turnovers (two interceptions and a fumble recovery), scored a touchdown (Tyrann Mathieu's 27-yard interception return in the first quarter), sacked New England's quarterbacks twice, defensed nine passes and hit the quarterbacks four times in a dominating performance.
"It's extremely difficult," Coach Dennis Allen said of recording a shutout. "I don't think you see very many of those. Obviously, there's a little bit of luck that's involved in it – they got themselves into field goal range and missed a long field goal (a 48-yard attempt in the first quarter). That's kind of the way those things have to happen, you get a break that kind of goes your way. But they're difficult to come by. I thought our guys did a good job of finishing out the game."
Defensive play-calling and play-making synced as well as it has this season as the Saints produced their third standout defensive showing. New Orleans held Tennessee to 285 yards and intercepted three passes en route to holding the Titans to five field goals, and limited Carolina to 239 yards and had four sacks and a fumble recovery while holding the Panthers to 17 points.
"It ultimately boils down to the players going out there and executing their jobs," Allen said. "It doesn't really matter what the play call is. If they go out and do what they're supposed to do – when you have talented players and they do that – then generally you get good results.
"I thought our guys had great focus throughout the week. I thought they understood what we were trying to do from a gameplan perspective. And yet, ultimately it boiled down to those guys locked in, focused in and doing their job. It was good to see."
Mathieu's defensive touchdown off his 30th career interception provided the adrenaline for the entire team.
"I think it's huge. It just changes the whole momentum of where you're at in terms of your team, I think it can be demoralizing to the opponent, particularly when you're able to create something like that on the road," Allen said. "I think when you go through the history of our game and you look at non-offensive scores, it's a high percentage win probability when you're able to score by other means other than your offense. I thought that was a big boost for our team at that point in time."
FILM SESSION: Allen said he was pleased with the game film, but noted several areas that will require cleaning up. "There were some opportunities down the field offensively potentially for some explosive plays," he said. "We've got to get the penalties cleaned up, that will come back to haunt us. We had some missed opportunities in terms of being able to take the ball away on defense. So, pleased with the win and yet, got some things that we've got to get fixed."
Regarding the penalties – New Orleans committed 12 for 86 yards, several of the pre-snap variety on offense – Allen said the team needs to tighten up mentally.
"I think it's focus, attention to detail. I think those are all aspects," he said. "We incorporated a little bit more movement offensively in terms of what we were doing pre-snap, shift motions, some of those things.
"You go back and you look at the penalties and typically, most of them occurred when there was some sort of pre-snap shift or motion. So, something we kind of incorporated a little bit more into the gamplan, and our guys have got to get used to it.
"If we're going to do these things we have to be able to execute them at a high level. You don't want to be putting yourself into negative positions, particularly the pre-snap penalties. They've got to go away."
IT'S HOW YOU DO IT: Allen had this to say regarding including more motion, etc., offensively:
"We've got to continue to do a good job each and every week of seeing our team not only through our own eyes, but seeing our team through the eyes of our opponent and how they're going to see us. Our ability to kind of self-scout ourselves, look at what we're doing and see if we're giving any type of advantage to our opponent. I thought we did a nice job with some of those things in the game.
"And then ultimately, I don't care whether you motion, don't motion, shift, don't shift, run it, throw it, how you call it – it then boils down to execution. So you can have all the pretty shifts and motions that you want to have, and they look cute, but ultimately you've got to be able to get to the right people and block the right people and execute your job. And that's what this game boils down to."