The fewer the blades of grass to defend, the more precious they became, the more urgent it became for the New Orleans Saints defense to do something to get out of the jam it had gotten itself into Sunday afternoon.
So after rookie defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson was penalized for pass interference with 2:21 remaining in the game – a previously-called incompletion that was reversed after Carolina's challenge – and the Panthers set up first-and-goal from the Saints' 3, New Orleans needed some fortitude and fortune to set in motion the events that led to its 34-31 victory in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
First down: Linebacker A.J. Klein crashed through to tackle Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey for a yard loss.
Second down: Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen dropped back from under center, searched for a receiver, time ran out and he threw incomplete out of the right side of the end zone.
Third down: From the shotgun, Allen took the snap but this time defensive end Marcus Davenport made sure time ran out – he sacked Allen for a 6-yard loss.
Fourth down: Panthers rookie kicker Joey Slye missed a 28-yard, chip-shot field goal attempt by pushing it right, giving the Saints the opening to drive for their game-winning field goal.
"It's huge, because you never know how it's going to play into the game," linebacker Demario Davis said. "Our coach is always emphasizing defending every blade of grass, and that's why you do it, because you never know what could happen.
"We're thinking at that point that they're still going to be able to get three (points) if they kick a field goal, then we'll have to drive down and kick a field goal. So you never know what can happen in a game. That's why you want to defend every blade of grass.
"It's important to do so because you never know how the game will play out. You mess around and let them get seven there, it's a different game. Or even if they're able to get three, it's a different situation. So that was a huge stop for the defense."
It was all the offense needed. That unit responded with an 11-play, 65-yard drive that ended with Wil Lutz's 33-yard field goal as time expired. After a 6-yard sack on the first play of the drive, quarterback Drew Brees completed five straight passes for 46 yards, threw incomplete deep, then combined with Alvin Kamara for 16 more yards before Kamara ran for nine yards to set up the short kick.
"If you give '9' (Brees) the ball, with the targets and the weapons he has, and with the good O-line that he has, with that much time on the clock I think we can go out there and be able score on anybody," said tight end Jared Cook, who had his most productive day as a Saint with six catches for 99 yards, and a touchdown. "As long as we take care of what we need to take care of offensively.
"That's how good he is in the two-minute drive and that's how good we are collectively as a team. When the game is on the line and we need those points, we know that we have a chance to come away with it. We have the utmost confidence in each other and the utmost confidence in those coaches that we're going to be in the best position to try to win the game in the end."
Coach Sean Payton said the chain of events conjured a pleasant memory from the Super Bowl season.
"The two-minute drill by Drew was outstanding," Payton said. "It was outstanding. Just the execution of it. And our defense – we get a stop there and force a field goal, and take advantage of the miss.
"It reminded me a little bit of '09 when (kicker Shaun) Suisham and Washington at the end of regulation pushed it wide right (a 23-yarder, with 1:56 left in regulation). This was after (Robert) Meachem's play (a 44-yard fumble return for a touchdown, with Meachem wrestling the ball away from a defensive back who was returning an intercepted a Drew Brees pass). And then we got to overtime and won a tough game (33-30).
"I was proud that we fought through it and were able to get a win (Sunday)."
Check out the NFC South division action between the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers in Week 12 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.