These Saints are dangerous. You just can’t put them away. When Washington scored on Kirk Cousins’ third touchdown pass of the game with six minutes to play, New Orleans trailed 31-16, and the team with the stingiest defense in the league over the last month looked doomed.
It was an uncharacteristic day for the New Orleans D, the most interesting new defensive unit in the league. The Saints had won seven in a row entering Sunday’s game against explosive Washington, and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen told him team: You’ve been playing a lot of games that weren’t very close. But this one, I guarantee you, will be different. Allen was right. In the previous four games, the Saints had won by nine, eight, 20 and 37, and allowed just 12.3 points per game.
But Kirk Cousins was making some superstar plays, including one that he’ll remember for the rest of his life. Third quarter, Washington ball at the Saints’ 40, the Saints show an all-out blitz.
“We didn’t just show it,” said New Orleans safety Vonn Bell, part of the young nucleus of the Saints’ back end. “We sent the house.’’
Rarely do you see a blitz like this one. Eight men came, four from the linebacker/secondary unit. Bell was one of the three Saints who popped Cousins hard just as he threw. Amazingly, Cousins had the guts and the accuracy with three men hitting him to find Ryan Grant for the touchdown.
With that score, and with Cousins playing a truly superb game, I asked Bell this: How were you still hanging in, down 15 late, knowing you guys hadn’t played that well?
“No panic, Bell said. “Coach said before the game it was going to be a fight for four quarters, and that’s exactly what it was. When we scored and tied it up, we weren’t really surprised.
The tie. That was a superb call in itself. The Saints scored two touchdowns in the final three minutes of regulation to climb within 31-29, and coach Sean Payton called a two-point conversion play that left Washington flat-footed. Drew Brees faked a handoff to the right, then pitched to Alvin Kamara running to the left pylon. He made it easily.
Now, to keep the sole lead in the NFC South over 7-3 Carolina, New Orleans would have to survive one last drive by Cousins, and overtime. With nine seconds left in regulation, Washington had the ball at the Saints’ 44. Cousins needed a mid-range completion to get into field-goal range.
“I missed so many plays—I just really had to make this play,” Bell said.
Missed so many plays? Bell had 13 tackles … and then this: Bell blitzed from Cousins’ blind side and slammed into him, causing the ball to flutter away.
“We needed a spark then,” said Bell. “We needed energy. I messed up a lot in this game—I know I did. But here, I hit a home run. We needed it.”
Overtime. Washington ball. Vernon Davis drop. Cameron Jordan sack. Samaje Perrine drop. New Orleans ball. Mark Ingram ran 51 yards in two plays against a bushed Washington defense, and Wil Lutz’s 28-yard field goal won it.
Eight in a row now. I wondered what the Saints’ locker room was like, and what this young team thought of itself after three straight 7-9 seasons. It’s mid-November, and the 8-2 Saints have already exceeded their win total of the previous three seasons. “It’s really not something we’re thinking about,” Bell said. “We’re just stacking wins. The only thing that matters is the next one.”
Music to a coach’s ears. Especially with a killer schedule coming up: at the 7-3 Rams, 7-3 Carolina at home, at the 5-4 Falcons. It’s remarkable to watch the development of the Saints after their 0-2 start.