<span style=""><span style="">London – Drew Brees threw three touchdown passes, Deuce McAllister and Mike Karney each added rushing scores and LB Jonathan Vilma thwarted a frantic comeback effort by the Chargers with his first interception as a Saint as the Saints downed the Chargers, 37-32, in front of a packed Wembley Stadium crowd.
Last season at Wembley, the NY Giants defeated the Miami Dolphins, 7-0, and many wondered if football was usually a low scoring affair. The Saints and Chargers certainly changed that perspective, as they combined for 69 points in a highly entertaining affair in front of a packed house. The Saints took the lead, 3-0, early and though the teams were tied at 3-3 after the first quarter, the Saints never trailed in the game, although there were some precarious moments, particularly late.
But in the end, it was the Saints that improved to 4-4 while the Chargers fell to 3-5 as both teams head back to the United States for their bye weeks.
"There were a lot of pivotal plays in the game, not just one," said Chargers Head Coach Norv Turner. "They (the Saints) are a heck of an offensive team and they put a lot of pressure on us throughout the game."
The Saints and Chargers combined for 860 yards of total offense, with the Saints being out-gained 409 to 451. That, said Head Coach Sean Payton, was something that he felt after the team's walk-though on Saturday afternoon. "Our feelings after the walk through and getting on the field on Saturday was that it was going to be tough to defend the pass for both teams," Payton said.
"The field was good. Every field is different," said Turner of the grass field conditions in the misty evening weather. "I don't think the field had anything to do with the outcome of the game."
"This thing was a fight the entire game," said Turner.
Payton said that the win, particularly after a tough and decisive loss last week at Carolina, was what his team needed right now. "It's exciting for us and a big win. The significance of this game was something that neither teams took for granted. But at the end of the day it was a few plays that made the difference."
"I thought Drew (Brees) did a great job," Payton said and mentioned that Brees earned a gameball. "He managed the game and he was crisp and located the ball. I couldn't be happier for him."
"Another 300 yard passing day for Drew Brees," said Tomlinson. "I was sitting on the bench and just was wondering, 'Is he ever going to miss one?'"
"I am glad we won. This game was not about me proving a point or anything like that. We beat a very good team today and a team that needed a win as badly as we did. I am just glad we won today. It feels good," said Brees.
"San Diego made some plays and made it uncomfortable," Payton said. "That is one of the top teams in the league and they have a lot of playmakers. That was a good win for us."
"Both quarterbacks are awfully good and talented," said Turner. "Both teams are going to say they need to make some changes in their techniques in their secondaries. But attribute a lot of that to really good quarterback play from both Brees and Rivers."
The Saints won the toss and elected to receive and started their initial drive of the game at their own 26. The Saints put together an impressive opening drive by marching 69 yards in 14 plays. The drive saw the perfectly balanced offensively, with seven passes and six rushes. The biggest gain of the opening drive was a 12-yard run by Deuce McAllister, who picked up a key block from WR Lance Moore along the way. The Saints had the ball first and goal on the Chargers' seven yard-line, but a holding call on C Matt Lehr pushed the Saints back 10 yards. The Black-and-Gold couldn't advance the ball any further than the five yard-line and failed to convert a third-and-goal from the five. New Orleans' first points of the game came via a 23-yard field goal by Taylor Mehlhaff that put the Saints up 3-0 after the opening 8:26 of action.
San Diego answered right back by driving 51 yards in seven plays, with two big plays via a 26-yard run by LaDainian Tomlinson on the first play of the drive and later a 16-yard leaping reception by TE Antonio Gates. The Chargers, through, failed to convert their first third down opportunity due to tight coverage by Saints' CB Aaron Glenn and tied the game on a 33-yard field from K Nate Kaeding with just over three minutes left in the first quarter.
The Saints' second drive of the game was a quick one that lasted on three plays before new punter Ben Graham was called into action. The Saints' could only muster seven yards on the first three plays after an errant first down pass missed the mark and the Chargers stacked up McAllister for a one-yard gain. Brees hit Shockey for a gain of six yards but the tight end was stopped short of the first down marker.
San Diego took over at their own 36 and rant three straight times. The first two attempts picked up four yards and five yards, respectively, but on third-and-one, DT Sedrick Ellis shot through a gap and dropped FB Mike Tolbert for a one-yard loss and the Saints had matched the Chargers' three-and-out.
New Orleans corrected whatever ills ailed them in the second drive, as they drove 82 yards in nine plays that ended with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Brees to WR Devery Henderson. On the drive the Saints' key play was a third down conversion from Brees to TE Marvin Mitchell/Billy Miller.aspx">Billy Miller, who made a juggling reception for a nine-yard gain and the first down. Three plays later Brees hit Lance Moore for a 25-yard gain to the Chargers' 25 and only three plays later, Brees bought time with a scramble and found a wide open Devery Henderson alone in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. The only setback the Saints suffered on the drive was when rookie Mehlhaff's extra point hit the upright and bounced away, thus giving the Saints a 9-3 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff return specialist Darren Sproles was stripped of the football by a diving tackle from Chris Reis and recovered in midair by an alert Usama Young who returned the ball seven yards to the Chargers' 25. After a short gain by McAllister, Brees hit Mark Campbell over the middle for a 13-yard gain. The Saints chipped away with hard-hitting plays over the middle and Saints' Head Coach Sean Payton showed his faith in his offense when he went for a fourth-and-goal from the one when he sent Deuce McAllister behind FB Mike Karney and LG Jahri Evans and into the end zone, giving the Saints a 16-3 lead.
San Diego lived up to their reputations as an explosive team, taking advantage of a 40-yard run by Tomlinson after he shook a Roman Harper tackle and took the ball to the Saints' six-yard line before CB Randall Gay could shove him out of bounds. The Saints' defense bottled up Tomlinson on first down for a two-yard loss and false start penalty pushed the Bolts back five more yards before QB Phillip Rivers called a timeout before a third-and-goal from the Saints' 12. Rivers, through, stepped up in the pocket and hit Tomlinson underneath and put a quick move on a fast closing Jonathan Vilma and then spilt defenders for a touchdown that close the Saints' lead to 16-10 with 5:35 left in the second quarter.
New Orleans ripped right back, marching 76 yards in four plays. On the third play of the drive Brees found Henderson across the middle for a 20-yard gain and after the quarterback released the ball he took a late hit from LB Antwan Applewhite that cost the Chargers an additional 15 yards. On the next play Brees' aerial split double coverage by the Chargers' defensive backs and found a diving Lance Moore for the 30-yard TD reception. Moore was flagged after celebrating with a European inspired soccer celebration move and the Saints were docked 15-yards for unsportsmanlike conduct on the ensuing kickoff. The Saints' led 23-10 with 3:29 left in the second quarter.
San Diego responded by with a quick drive of their own by covering 64 yards in just five plays, capped off by a 12-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to TE Antonio Gates with 1:08 left in the second quarter that closed the Saints lead to 23-17.
New Orleans went into their two-minute offense and after a quick hitting pass from Brees to Stecker Brees tried to connect with Miller over the middle. Miller's one-handed reception attempt was thwarted then the officials judged that his hand was underneath the football as it popped into the hands of S Steve Gregory and the Chargers appeared to have the ball at the Saints' 43 with :31 left.
The officials though reviewed the play and ruled the pass had hit the ground and the Saints retained possession with a third-and-six from their own 24. Brees coolly found a slicing Moore behind the Chargers' zone coverage for a gain of 19 and the first down as Moore scampered out of bounds. Brees and Stecker then picked up eight yards on first down and Brees nearly hooked up with a bomb for Henderson on second down. A third down conversion between Brees and Miller couldn't be found, however the Graham hit his second punt of the day, this time a 39-yarder that was fair caught with just a few second left in the second quarter.
San Diego took possession of the opening kickoff to start the second half and forced the Chargers out on a three-and-out with DE Charles Grant nearly intercepting a Rivers pass on a third-and-10 intended for Gates. P Mike Scifres hammered a 47-yard punt that was fair caught by Moore at the Saints' 24.
After a one-yard gain by McAllister, Brees found Marques Colston down the middle of the field for a 49-yard gain. The Saints again went for it on a fourth-and-two with the ball on Chargers' 14. Brees coolly ball faked found Miller out of the backfield for 10-yard gain. Mike Karney smashed ahead for three yards to the one and then Brees hit TE Mark Campbell for a one-yard score that gave the Saints a 30-17 lead with 10:15 remaining in the third quarter.
San Diego went to work from their own 30 and picked up 15 yards from Tomlinson on their first two plays from scrimmage. Rivers tried to go deep on a first down pass but tight coverage from Randal Gay forced an incompletion. Tomlinson then picked up five yards on a draw and third-down pass that was ruled incomplete was come undone when Aaron Glenn was flagged for a pass interference call that gave the Chargers eight yards and a first down. Tomlinson then added four yards before Rivers hit Chambers on a well-timed out route that picked up 11 yards to the Saints' 27. Sproles then jitterbugged his way for six yards off the left side of the Chargers' line. Rivers then found Sproles out of the backfield for a 14-yard gain to the seven. Vilma and Gay stopped Tomlinson for no gain on first down and the Chargers' were flagged for a false start that cost the visitors five yards. On a second-and-goal from the 12 the Saints gave the Chargers the five yards right back when Grant was flagged for an off-sides call. Tomlinson picked up a few yards on second down and on third down DE Bobby McCray was brought down on a holding call that pushed San Diego back 10 yards. Tomlinson was pushed out of bounds by Vilma on third down at the six and San Diego had to settled for a 24-yard effort by Kaeding that closed the score of the game to 30-20 in the Saints' favor with 3:25 left in the third quarter.
The Saints started their second possession of the second half at their own 23 with 3:18 left. Brees hit Miller for a gain of 20 yards to the 43 before McAllister gained four yards on a hard charging run. On second down Brees nearly opted for a deep throw to Colston but instead elected to check the ball down to McAllister for a three-yard gain. San Diego CB Quentin Jammer was flagged for a 10-yard pass interference call and on first down Pierre Thomas sliced through the line for a 15-yard gain to the 25. Brees and Shockey couldn't connect across the middle on first down. On the play Jammer suffered an injury in the San Diego end zone that required medial treatment to his right thigh for nearly three minutes before he limped off the field and was replaced by Cletis Gordon.
Aaron Stecker picked up a hard earned five yards to the Chargers' 20 on the final play of the third quarter. Brees went right after Gordon on third and five in the end zone and Gordon was flagged for a 19-yard pass interference call. On the next play Karney blasted his way through the middle for a one-yard touchdown run that upped the Saints' lead to 37-20 with 14:49 left in the game.
San Diego started at their on 24 and were stuffed by the Saints' defense on their first two plays for no yards. Rivers, though, hit WR Malcom Floyd for a 21-yard gain in the middle of traffic for the first down. Rivers tried to go deep on first down but good coverage from the Saints resulted in an incompletion. On second down Rivers hit Gates for a 20-yard gain. San Diego was flagged for an illegal formation but San Diego picked up 20 yards on pass to Sproles and then a seven-yard gain to TE Brandon Manumaleuna. Tomlinson picked up a first down with a three-yard run to the Saints' 8 with just over 10 minutes left in game. Tomlinson was stopped for no gain and a second down pass to WR Vincent Jackson was ruled incomplete. San Diego was then flagged for a delay of game penalty that pushed them back five yards to the 13. DE Bobby McCray flushed Rivers out of the pocket and his pass intended for WR Chris Chambers was defended by Kaesviharn. K Nate Kaeding connected on a 31-yard field goal that closed the Saints' lead to 37-23 with 9:35 left.
San Diego attempted and recovered an on-sides kick at their own 43. On the next play Rivers hit Jackson for a 17-yard gain to the Saints' 40 and came right back in the face of a Saints blitz for a 17 yard gain to Chambers. Vilma nearly intercepted a pass intended for Tomlinson that fell incomplete on first down. Rivers and Chambers than picked up nine yards on a slant to Chambers. On a third-and-one Rivers connected with a diving Jackson in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown that trimmed the Saints' lead to 37-30 after the extra point.
The Saints then took over at their 19 and picked up five yards on run by McAllister. A second down pass was incomplete and then Brees hit Miller across the middle of the field for a gain of 15 yards. Brees came right back and attempted to hit Miller in the middle of the field but Miller was flagged for an offensive pass interference and S Eric Weddle appeared to make a diving interception at SD 49. Weddle for flagged for a personal foul penalty but the Saints challenged the ruling on the field and the play resulted in an overturned call and the off-setting infractions offset and first down was replayed.
"The rule is pretty clear there with the trapped ball and I thought it was worth taking a chance that the officials look at that one," Payton said.
The Saints, with the ball at their own 39, and with 5:40 to go, went back to McAllister, who hammered his way up the middle for a three yard gain. Brees then hit Moore underneath the Chargers' coverage for a two-yard gain. A third down pass intended for Moore was incomplete and Graham was called in and hit a 43-yard punt down the sideline that was returned nine yards by Sproles.
From the 22 and a little over four minutes left, the Chargers were flagged for a holding infraction on T Jeromy Clary that cost them 10 yards. Rivers bought time on the ensuing first down and found Tomlinson for a 32-yard gain to the Chargers' 44. A first down incompletion was followed by a six-yard completion to Chambers. Will Smith then stopped Tomlinson on a third down. On fourth down-and-two Rivers hit Gates for a first down on an 11-yard completion as the clock stopped with the two-minute warning with the football on the Saints' 37.
Rivers then hit Sproles underneath for a gain of 10 yards and missed his mark on the next first down when Vilma blanketed Tomlinson. San Diego was docked five yards for a delay of game penalty with 1:22 that pushed the ball back to the Saints' 32. Rivers' pass on second down to Tomlinson was under thrown and incomplete and the Chargers called their first time out of the second half with 1:18 remaining.
Rivers then tried to connect with Chambers across the middle by Jonathan Vilma intercepted the pass after Scott Shanle deflected the offering. "It was a cover two, I dropped back, Scott tipped it and I just made the play," Vilma said. "My goals are simple: I want to win games and help the team play good defense. Sometimes it is just making the one play at the right time in the game that can be the difference between a win and a loss."
The Chargers used their final two timeouts to stop the clock and the Saints ran the clock all the way down to 12 second before Brees ran backwards on a designed play and threw the ball out of the end zone for a safety that made the score 37-32 with :08 left.
"We wrestled with the idea of doing that at the end the game. Their return game is very good and what we were looking to do there is take more time off the clock. It's a tough situation," said Payton. 'It's not easy but it worked out for us."
Darren Sproles returned the football to midfield after the kickoff and the Chargers tried a Hail Mary that the Saints' Kevin Kaesviharn knocked down as time expired.
"This was a game we needed and desperately wanted to win. You don't want to come all this way and lose," Deuce McAllister said. "Now we are 4-4 and have a good feeling about ourselves. It's time to regroup for us and get it started."
Notes: The Saints made three starting lineup changes, all of which came on the offensive side of the football: #16 Lance Moore started in place of #12 Marques Colston at wide receiver, #80 Mark Campbell in place of #88 Jeremy Shockey at tight end and #68 Matt Lehr at center in place of #76 Jonathan Goodwin … the Saints' captains for the game were QB Drew Brees, DE Will Smith, LB Scott Fujita, S Kevin Kaesviharn, LB Troy Evans and RB Aaron Stecker. Rebecca Edlington, an English swimmer that won two gold medals at the recent Summer Olympics was an honorary captain and wore a #2 Saints jersey when the Saints won the coin toss…. 83,226 spectators were in attendance… Payton praised the people in London that went above and beyond the call of duty to welcome his team this week but said the team is ready to return to New Orleans. "I think the people over here have been great and our experience has been great. It's been an outstanding experience," Payton said. "There are some people back in New Orleans that really need us and need the income from game days. But we are anxious to get back and will be doing that early tomorrow."
Payton on the Wembley crowd: "The atmosphere was great, the fans were loud and unbelievable. What a great venue, we were proud to be a part of it."
"It was an important win. There were a lot of chances for distractions, but the team had good focus and handled some of the distractions and were able to put a tough loss last week behind us. We have a lot work to us, but this was a big win for us and gets us back to .500."