Foxborough, Mass. – When the New Orleans Saints have needed a play, someone has risen to make it. Often, several someones.
That's what the Saints have come to expect from themselves, and it's what they delivered on Sunday in a 28-13 victory over New England at Gillette Stadium.
The Saint (2-1) scored on offense and defense, and a blocked punt on special teams probably should have directly led to a score for New Orleans. In two victories, the Saints have been able to take advantage of stellar defense and solid special teams play, and create enough offense to make it all work well. There are enough playmakers to do it.
OFFENSE: Alvin Kamara is critical to the Saints' offense, and he provided a reminder against the Patriots. Kamara had 12 touches in the loss to Carolina; on Sunday, he had a career-high 24 rushing attempts and three receptions. He totaled 118 yards and a touchdown on those 27 touches and while that might not sound impressive, place it in context: He accounted for 47 percent of the New Orleans' yards on offense and he touched the ball on 44 percent of the plays. The threat he poses is immense, and his ability to produce in a grind-it-out game carries a value that's much higher than the actual yardage total. New Orleans likes to monitor his pitch count, but it might be a bit heavy until the offense finds its legs.
DEFENSE: Singling out one player for the Saints' best performance on defense against the Patriots pretty much was impossible. New Orleans was front-to-back, side-to-side, across-the-board good against New England. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore (an interception and pass defensed with a heavily-wrapped hand, plus a game-high 10 tackles) would have been a natural choice. So, too, would have been linebacker Demario Davis (two tackles for loss, two passes defensed, eight tackles). Safety Malcolm Jenkins returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown and defended two passes, C.J. Gardner-Johnson returned from injury and had a sack, two tackles for loss, a quarterback hit and five tackles, P.J. Williams had a pick and a quarterback hit and a pass defensed and…you get the idea. Lots of outstanding performances and for that, we'll combine them all and simply honor the entire unit. Jenkins says the Saints defense is leading the charge and anyone who's been paying attention would have to agree.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Ordinarily, the rule is that if you block a kick, you're the standout guy. And linebacker Andrew Dowell did, indeed, block a punt for the Saints. It was a spectacular play, and an indication that if special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi isn't the best in the business, he's scratching the top rung on the ladder. But returner Deonte Harris terrified the Patriots. He had a 25-yard punt return and after that, New England didn't give him another chance: two punts went out of bounds and two more reached the end zone. He had a 16-yard kickoff return but otherwise, New England kicked two for touchbacks and kicked one out of bounds. That kind of respect helps produce good field position (punts that aren't downed inside the 20 to pin the offense deep come out to the 20, and kickoffs that bounce out of bounds allow drives to begin at the 40). That's the kind of effect Harris had Sunday.