The New Orleans Saints hardly got everything they wanted offensively against Philadelphia in the 24-21 loss that ended their nine-game winning streak, but for one 37-yard chunk, they got exactly what they wanted.
Emmanuel Sanders' touchdown reception in the third quarter, on first-and-10 from the Eagles' 37 and with the Saints trailing 17-7, was the biggest play for an offense that struggled much of the game.
It was a sliver of perfection for New Orleans (10-3), which on Sunday is set to play Kansas City (12-1), the reigning Super Bowl champions, in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Sanders essentially was being interfered with on the play – the defensive back grabbed his left arm before the ball arrived, forcing Sanders to come up with a one-handed grab in the end zone while both players were falling to the Lincoln Financial Field turf.
"It's crazy because when I did it, I didn't even notice that it was a difficult catch," said Sanders, who finished with three catches for 48 yards, and leads Saints receivers this season in catches (44) and receiving yards (504), and has four touchdowns.
"I just caught it. When I went back and watched the replay, I was like, 'Damn, that was actually a really good catch, caught it with one hand.' But I was just so in the moment, trying to cut the deficit and trying to get out with a win.
"It was a play that we've had in for like, two weeks. It was really a boot play in which Taysom (Hill) acts like he's going to run a naked to the right and try to get the safety to bite. My job was to pretty much sell the corner, like I'm running a corner route on normal naked rules, and then just stretch it back all the way across the field. And Taysom just lobbed it up; he gave me an opportunity, and I just tried to capitalize on that."
The catch was the kind that the Saints expect Sanders to make.
"Emmanuel has shown time and time again, as I look back at some of the plays he's made since I've been playing quarterback," Hill said. "Some of the ones that stand out is that Atlanta play that that got called back, where he went out and made a big play that led to the touchdown that got called back (a 57-yarder that was nullified by a holding penalty, in New Orleans' 24-9 win on Nov. 22), he did the same thing in that play.
"I tell you, it gives a quarterback a lot of trust when you see a one-on-one situation and you can throw it up to him. Really, only good things are going to happen. You get a pass interference call, he goes and makes a great play and catches the ball, or it's an incompletion. That skill set puts your mind at ease as a quarterback."
Sanders said that, as he has gained more experience, his mind also has eased with his role and level of production. He said he no longer is focused on numbers as much as he is on winning.
"I try to think about just winning games," he said. "I think the ceiling for us – if (Saints Coach) Sean Payton wants to open it up – the ceiling can be high. I know what I'm capable of doing, I know what Mike (Thomas) is capable of doing and I know what Drew (Brees) is capable of doing, so obviously the ceiling can be high.
"But at the end of the day, I go in not worried about my stats, not worried about numbers, but trying to be a good leader on this team. Keep everybody light, making sure that they understand how blessed you are to even play this game. But at the same time, we're trying to work toward a common goal, trying to bring a championship to New Orleans.
"If you would have caught me like, five or six years ago, I would've come to the media and been like, 'Hey, you need to give me the ball. I need the ball, I'm trying to (go to the) Pro Bowl.' I guess with time, you start to see. I was always about trying to win the Super Bowl, but…I wanted just wanted to show the world my talents, because I feel like I work so hard. And that's still the same thing now, but I'm not going to go out and force it."