Fort Worth, Texas – The play said all that needed saying about the New Orleans Saints defense Sunday Sept. 12.
First-and-goal from the 5-yard line for Green Bay's offense, 70 seconds left in the game, quarterback Jordan Love took a shotgun snap. Before Love had time to find a receiver, Saints defensive lineman Tanoh Kpassagnon barreled in from the left side, crushed Love so viciously that the backup quarterback was separated from the ball, and then participated in the scramble as his teammate, linebacker Kaden Elliss, recovered the ball at the 2.
From there, New Orleans kneeled twice to put the finish on a 38-3 victory at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.
But after Kpassagnon's sack and forced fumble, he couldn't make it to the sideline before defensive end Cam Jordan met him on the field for a body-bump celebration, one of several acknowledgements by the Saints who were out of the game to the Saints who were on the field.
After a day of heavy lifting on defense, New Orleans was determined to not let it be spoiled by an insignificant touchdown at the end. A unit that has surmised it can and will play a major role in the Saints' success this season, did exactly that.
"We're all competitors and you're trying to defend, really, every blade of grass while you're on the field," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "There were a lot of other players that were in the game at that time for not only us, but also for Green Bay. The team is, even at that stage, still into it very much and wanting to finish on a high note. That's good to see."
The high note looked like this: One field goal allowed, one third-down conversion in 10 attempts, 229 yards given up, three turnovers forced and two sacks. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, last season's Most Valuable Player, completed 15 of 28 passes for 133 yards, and threw two interceptions.
And, obviously, keeping Green Bay's offense out of the end zone.
"That's our philosophy as a defense," said Kpassagnon, who had two quarterback hits and two tackles, in addition to the forced fumble and sack. "It's not over until it's actually over. You'll see some teams let up at the end, especially when they have a big lead like (we had). It's been enforced since I got here that the game's not over until it's actually over."
New Orleans found a groove defensively and maintained its comfort zone against the Packers. The Saints forced four punts and also had a fourth-down stop.
"I just feel like everyone did their job," Kpassagnon said. "That's something we harped on throughout the whole week and over the entire training camp. It's just about doing your job. Once we do that, you see the results."
The unit was led by the defensive front, which accounted for both sacks, both tackles for loss, all seven quarterback hits and the forced fumble.
"It was a good energy day," Payton said. "Those guys up front battled and played with great effort. I thought overall, there were so many good things defensively.
"We were able to, offensively, keep them off the field. You hear that term complementary football. If you can force a three-and-out and possess the ball, I don't know what the snap total was going into the second quarter, but it was pretty lopsided. In a hot day like that, it can be difficult for the side of the ball on the field a lot, especially the defense. We had their defense out there.
"I thought (the Saints' defense was) fresh and did a great job of getting off the field on third down. Our third down numbers were real good."