East Rutherford, N.J. – The New Orleans Saints picked a good time to play their best game of the young season.
On the road, against a hungry opponent, attempting to win their third straight game and claim sole possession of first place in the NFC South Division.
So Sunday's 33-18 victory over the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium was a satisfying one. Each unit picked up the others at needed times, whether it was a time-consuming, back-breaking touchdown drive, or a series of stops and two forced turnovers, or four field goals and a fake-punt conversion. The Saints earned the right to savor this one.
OFFENSE: A slow start – as in 0-for-4 in the red zone in the first half – gave way to a vintage finish (two fourth-quarter touchdown drives of 74 and 97 yards). Drew Brees (18 of 32 for 217 yards and no touchdowns) and Michael Thomas (four catches for 47 yards) were held in check. Alvin Kamara was not; he ran for 134 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries, and caught five passes for 47 yards. The offensive line continues to shine for the Saints and the unit found its rhythm when it needed to. After converting just once in seven attempts on third down in the first half, the Saints converted 4 of 6 in the second half. The fourth quarter again was a masterpiece, as New Orleans scored at least 14 points in the quarter for the fourth time this season. That's every game, and that's amazing production.
DEFENSE: The Saints defense cleaned up much of the communication issues that have plagued it this season. The Giants totaled 299 yards, but a flood of chunk plays didn't hurt New Orleans. The Saints forced and recovered two fumbles – one force by P.J. Williams and another by Tyeler Davison, one recovery by Marshon Lattimore and another by Taylor Stallworth – and when the defense is functioning that way, the Saints are going to be hard to beat. No Giant receiver totaled 100 yards, running back Saquon Barkley had 44 yards on 10 carries (including a 28-yard run) and the Saints sacked Eli Manning three times (linebacker Demario Davis had two). All in all, it was a forceful performance from a unit that has been under fire. Sunday, it brought its own fire to the fight.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Brandon Tate muffed and recovered a punt, Ted Ginn Jr. muffed and recovered a kickoff, and that was more theatrics than anyone hoped for or cared to witness. But, those gaffes aside, there was enough clean play easily to offset them. Wil Lutz kicked four field goals to provide the points in the first half when the offense bogged down in the red zone. Taysom Hill completed a 10-yard pass to Justin Hardee to make good on a fake punt on 4th-and-2 from the Saints' 33-yard line in the first quarter. Five of Lutz' eight kickoffs weren't returned, and New Orleans allowed just 60 yards on the three that were returned. And neither of Thomas Morstead's two punts, for a 47.5-yard average, were returned because of the excellent hang time. The punt and kickoff returns remain works in progress, but the Saints as a team also are a work in progress. Fortunately, right now, the arrow is pointed in the right direction.