The New Orleans Saints had about as many next-man-up scenarios as a team could be saddled with Sunday at Ford Field.
Most of the next men stepped up, in a big way, which was a big reason the Saints (2-2) posted a 35-29 victory over the Detroit Lions (1-3) to end their two-game losing streak and remain a game behind Tampa Bay in the NFC South Division standings.
Minus six starters (receiver Michael Thomas, tight end Jared Cook, left guard Andrus Peat, defensive end Marcus Davenport and cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Jackrabbit Jenkins), the Saints erased a 14-0 deficit with touchdowns on five straight possessions and defensive stops on four straight. Logically, there were standout plays and players all around.
OFFENSE: No issue could be taken if the decision was to go with quarterback Drew Brees (19 of 25 for 246 yards and two touchdowns, with an interception). Brees was the best he has been this season; one incompletion was a ball that slipped out of his hand, and the interception was a tipped pass. And, too, running back Latavius Murray (14 carries for 64 often-bruising yards and two touchdowns) and receiver Emmanuel Sanders (six catches for a game-high 93 yards) were outstanding. But receiver Tre'Quan Smith (four catches for 54 yards and two touchdowns) really separated himself. His 2-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter gave the Saints the lead at 21-14, and his 19-yard catch – on third-and-5 from the Saints' 27-yard line with 3:25 left – helped the Saints run out the clock at the end. Smith makes acrobatic catches, he makes catches in traffic, he absorbs big hits and he blocks. And he recovers fumbles; he pounced on one downfield Sunday to help New Orleans retain possession. He's rounding into the player New Orleans envisioned.
DEFENSE: Patrick Robinson does his best work as a slot cornerback, but he can play outside. That's what the Saints needed from him Sunday, and that's where he delivered. Robinson came up with his first interception of the season when New Orleans really needed it: score tied at 14, Lions first-and-10 from the Saints' 11-yard line and New Orleans backed up because of a 29-yard pass interference penalty. Matthew Stafford threw a jump ball, and P-Rob came down with it to take away a touchdown. When the Saints' offense took the turnover – the second of New Orleans' four consecutive stops – and drove 80 yards for a touchdown, the 14-point swing was huge. Robinson finished with four tackles and two passes defensed, and he and P.J. Williams delivered for the Saints.
SPECIAL TEAMS: There wasn't a game-changing play from the group, but Deonte Harris did provide a field-position changer. His 22-yard punt return in the second quarter – with less than two minutes remaining – gave New Orleans the ball at Detroit's 49-yard line. Four plays later, plus a penalty, the Saints scored on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Tre-Quan Smith to take a 28-14 lead into halftime.