Alvin Kamara called it a "grimy" win, and there likely isn't a better description for the New Orleans Saints' 30-27 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Saints (3-2) didn't play particularly well. But as their standout running back noted, they won, and pulled into a first-place tie in the NFC South Division standings, which is exactly where they wanted to be entering their bye week.
OFFENSE: The end-of-game numbers actually were pretty nice – 408 yards, 2 for 3 in the red zone, a time of possession advantage of 35:01-30:42. But the Saints were 5 of 15 on third down, weren't especially efficient in the running game (95 yards on 25 carries) and a Drew Brees interception led to a Chargers touchdown. New Orleans livened up offensively in the second half and overtime with a total of 20 points, a testament to the efficiency level that the unit is capable of operating at. But Brees, whose production skyrocketed in the second half (33 of 47 for 325 yards and a touchdown, with the interception), was sacked twice and harassed often. New Orleans can be better offensively, and expects to be better offensively.
DEFENSE: The defense deserved a little better than it received, frankly. The raw numbers (four touchdown passes and 27 points allowed, 111 rushing yards allowed and the Chargers were 3 for 3 in the red zone) weren't admirable. But the defense produced enough holds and gave the offense enough good field position that a wider margin wouldn't have been outlandish. One red-zone touchdown was allowed after Brees' interception was returned to the 1-yard line. Another was surrendered on a possession where the defense produced the stop and forced a punt, but had to get right back on the field due to a special teams penalty (roughing the kicker). The Chargers popped three big plays – a 36-yard run by Justin Jackson and 49- and 64-yard passes, the latter for a touchdown, from quarterback Justin Herbert to Jalen Guyton and Mike Williams, respectively. Those gaps have to be closed. But one touchdown allowed in the second half, seven punts forced and a fourth-down stop to end the game were indicators that the defense held its own.
SPECIAL TEAMS: We saw the Saints special team units contribute significantly to the season-opening win over Tampa Bay. This wasn't that. All-Pro special teamer J.T. Gray committed three holding penalties – one was declined – to wipe out positive returns by Marquez Callaway. And the penalty that was declined, was refused because Dwayne Washington committed a roughing the kicker penalty on the same play, allowing the Chargers to convert on fourth-and-14 from their own 21-yard line. Callaway was a bright spot, though, with 69 yards on six punt returns and 57 yards on two kickoffs. He showed some flash in the return game. And Wil Lutz was Wil Lutz – perfect on three field-goal attempts, including a 53-yarder to pull New Orleans to within 20-13, and a 36-yarder in overtime that proved to be the game-winning points.