Denver – The likely first-of-its-kind-game-in-NFL-history pretty much lived to expectations.
The Denver Broncos didn't have a quarterback available Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High. The New Orleans Saints were able to capitalize on that, and more, in a 31-3 victory that was the eighth straight win for the Saints (9-2) and kept them atop the South Division and the NFC rankings as the jockeying for playoff seeds begins to hit the sprint stage.
The Saints handled the Broncos with relative ease; it was a successful business trip – the fourth straight road win for New Orleans – and another example of the Saints doing the necessary things to win "that" game on "that" day.
OFFENSE: The numbers weren't awesome, but there were several telling ones. The Saints were three for three in the red zone. They converted seven of 15 times on third down. They ran for a season-high 229 yards. And they controlled the clock for 35:46 of the 60 minutes. That combination pretty much will assure a victory, even on a day when the passing game contributed just 63 net yards (78 passing, but three sacks for minus-15) and threw an interception. New Orleans basically imposed its will in the running game and won that way, and it's important to be able to do that when necessary, as it was against Denver.
DEFENSE: Honestly, it wasn't a fair fight. Denver was missing its four quarterbacks – the Broncos found out none of them would be playing on Saturday due to a Covid-19 breach of protocol – and announced undrafted rookie receiver Kendall Hinton as the starter Sunday. Hinton hadn't even played in an NFL game at receiver yet, and last had thrown a pass in a game in 2018, at Wake Forest. He, and the Broncos offense, were tasked with facing the NFL's hottest defense: The Saints had allowed 8.3 points, 36.3 rushing yards and 241 yards per game in the previous three – all league lows – entering Sunday. Predictably, they handled Denver: 100 rushing yards allowed (a chunk during mop-up), 13 passing yards (Hinton was 1 for 9), three turnovers forced (two interceptions and a fumble recovery) and stops on nine of 10 third-down attempts. The Saints' defense was exactly who we thought it would be, and likely would've pitched a shutout if Denver's interception hadn't set up the offense in position to kick a 58-yard field goal.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Another clean game. The Saints' special team units generally do one of two things: Either they make a game-changing play or two, or they don't do anything to hinder the effort to win. Sunday's game was an example of the latter. Denver didn't post a single yard on kickoff returns (Wil Lutz generated five touchbacks) or punt returns (Thomas Morstead's six punts were an average and net of 45.7 yards), and Marquez Callaway had a 19-yard punt return and 17-yard kickoff return. Solid work on a day when solid was plenty.