There's warming to the occasion, and then there's engulfing the occasion like lava.
The latter is what the New Orleans Saints have managed to do in the fourth quarter and overtime of their first three games, and while it hasn't been as attention-grabbing as the handful of other record-book accomplishments the Saints have achieved, or are sprinting toward, it deserves a conversation of its own.
First, there was 16 points posted against Tampa Bay in the fourth quarter of a 48-40 loss, with the Saints scoring on both possessions, touchdown drives of 75 and 66 yards, plus two-point conversions after each.
Then, 18 points versus Cleveland in the final 15 minutes – two touchdowns, a two-point conversion and a field goal on five possessions (one punt, one kneeldown to kill the clock) in a 21-18 victory.
And on Sunday in a 43-37 victory over Atlanta, 20 points after the end of the third quarter, including 14 in the fourth and six in overtime, on four possessions. In order: touchdown drives of 75 yards (on eight plays) and 81 yards (11 plays) to tie the score at 37; a kneel-down with 16 seconds left in regulation; and a 15-play, 80-yard masterpiece in overtime to win on a walk-off touchdown.
The Saints may not have it clicking all the time on offense, but they smoke when they need it the most.
New Orleans averages 34.7 points per game. More than half of that total – 18 points per game – has been scored in the fourth quarter and overtime.
"There's still a number of things that we have to work on to clean up," Coach Sean Payton said. "But I think the encouraging thing is some younger players are getting these real-game experiences and gaining that confidence that you need, and that belief that you have to have, that each time you go on the field you have the chance to do something, and do something special. I think we're seeing a lot of young players get those snaps and get those opportunities."
RUN GAME PROGRESS: After totaling 105 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries in the first two games, the Saints posted 143 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries against the Falcons. "I thought we got to the edge pretty well," Payton said. "I thought we won the battle of the line of scrimmage. That was one of the things that we talked about all week, and one of the keys to victory. Clearly, the thing that stood out is we won the line of scrimmage against that team on both sides of the ball."
WINTER, AND MORE DEEP THROWS, IS COMING: After surrendering more deep passes to the Falcons, including a 75-yard touchdown to Calvin Ridley and 58-yard completion to Julio Jones, Payton said the Saints know what to expect defensively. Cleveland scored on a 47-yard pass and Tampa Bay had 58- and 50-yard touchdown throws. "We've got to be able to stay on top of it," Payton said. "You've got to identify what you're doing – there's a mental error on one of the coverage busts (against Atlanta). We've got to look closely at that. We've got to ask ourselves, 'Are we doing too much? Are we putting our guys in the best position?'
"But that's going to keep coming, now. Those deep balls are going to keep coming because if there's only two things that are happening, a pass interference or a completion – there's no interception opportunity – then teams are going to take multiple shots more and more and more. I don't like the fact that we've had one takeaway after three games. I don't think we've caused a fumble one time. So there are a handful of things that need improvement fast."