Landover, Md. – The growing pains aren't nearly as painful in victory, and the New Orleans Saints definitely experienced a few of them during Sunday's 33-22 victory over the Washington Football Team at FedEx Field.
But Sunday, Oct. 10 was all about resiliency, from an offense that produced big plays, to a defense that had big stops and forced turnovers, to a special team unit that struggled, but not so much as to cost the Saints (3-2) a victory.
New Orleans enters its bye week with a pleasant taste because it overcame obstacles, whether self-inflicted or Washington-generated.
OFFENSE: A first quarter of feast or famine – an interception and fumble lost by quarterback Jameis Winston, sandwiched around a 72-yard touchdown pass to Deonte Harris, the longest completion of Winston's career – wasn't a total portend of how the game would evolve, and that was a good thing for the Saints. Winston completed 15 passes for 279 yards – his new Saints high – and four touchdowns, leading an offense that totaled 369 yards and averaged 6.7 yards per play. He had the Harris touchdown, a 49-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to Marquez Callaway as the second quarter ended, and a 19-yard touchdown pass to running back Alvin Kamara that gave New Orleans its final breathing space. It wasn't a clean performance, the Saints remain a work in progress. But the Saints remained near spotless in the red zone (they were 2 for 2, raising the season total to 13 for 14) and continue to show a knack for taking advantage of short-field situations.
DEFENSE: The numbers that matter were two turnovers forced (both interceptions), two sacks, 11 stops on 16 third-down attempts and three stops in five red zone attempts. If the red zone stops had gone the other way – and one stop was an interception at the Saints' 2-yard line by rookie cornerback Paulson Adebo, his second of the season – then New Orleans likely would have been entering the bye week on a loss. Washington ran off 76 plays on offense and hogged possession for 36:26, but the Saints' defense rarely broke. There are some situations where it needs to improve (the two sacks were timely, but pressuring Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke was spotty), but it rose to the occasion much more often than not, considering the amount of time it spend on the field.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Defensive end Carl Granderson committed a personal foul by roughing the punter after the defense had gotten a stop, and kicker Cody Parkey missed two point-after attempts. Kicker Wil Lutz has been dearly missed in the first five games. But the unit got a lift from Kamara, who returned three punts for 29 yards in the absence of Harris, who left the game with a hamstring injury. And punter Blake Gillikin was brilliant, and that's an understatement. Gillikin punted five times for a 53.6-yard average, and had three punts inside the 20, including a 60-yarder that bounced out at the 1-yard line and preceded the defensive stop, which allowed for the Hail Mary touchdown pass. Gillikin won't punt like that every game, but when he does it, it won't be a surprise.