Smooth operators: Drew Brees, Wil Lutz secure season-opening win for Saints
NEW ORLEANS — Another game here ended on a field goal, again with no time left.
The first one came in January. Greg Zuerlein's overtime field goal from 57 yards put the Rams in the Super Bowl and created a full off-season of anguish among Saints fans. Not to mention a significant rule change regarding instant replay and pass interference.
The next one came Monday. Wil Lutz marked off his steps from two yards inside midfield as Thomas Morstead went to one knee.
Then came the snap and the kick and ...
"I knew it was good right away," Lutz said after his 58-yard field goal for the Saints to beat the Texans 30-28 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Saints are 1-0 for the first time since 2013. They’re a long way from where they were when last season ended. But that was seven months and how many dismissed lawsuits ago?
This was a start.
After a first half in which coach Sean Payton struggled to find a play-calling rhythm — he said as much after the game — the Saints turned a 14-3 halftime deficit into a 27-21 lead with less than a minute remaining.
In the second half, the Saints possessed the ball six times and scored five times. Latavius Murray capped the first drive with a 30-yard touchdown run and Drew Brees threw scoring passes of 9 yards to Taysom Hill and 14 yards to Tre'Quan Smith.
Payton ran much of his offense through Alvin Kamara (169 scrimmage yards) and Michael Thomas (123 receiving yards), who combined for 30 of the 53 touches among rushers and receivers.
With 50 seconds left, Lutz made a 47-yard field goal that put the Saints ahead 27-21.
Then, it happened. Two plays, 75 yards, 13 seconds. Deshaun Watson to former Saints receiver Kenny Stills for a stunning touchdown that put Houston ahead 28-27 — but only after a personal foul for roughing the kicker let Houston's Ka'imi Fairbairn get a second attempt at an extra point after his first one went wide right.
After a kickoff to the end zone, the Saints took over at the 25 with 37 seconds remaining, knowing they wanted to get at least to the Houston 42.
"You work on so many two-minute situations," Brees said. "But most of the time you got a minute and 50 seconds, two timeouts and you need a touchdown. Or you have 50 seconds, one timeout and you need a field goal."
In this case, the Saints had one timeout, and they knew just when to use it: Not after pass to Ted Ginn for 15 yards that put the Saints at the 40. And not after the pass to Thomas for 11 yards that put the Saints at the Houston 49.
Brees hurried his team to the line so he could spike the ball at the end of both plays, ultimately clocking it with 6 seconds on the clock.
You might have wondered why they didn’t use the timeout sooner.
"The minute you use the timeout,” Payton said, “the look you get defensively changes. They protect the sideline and you get really handcuffed."
Still with a timeout the spare, Brees took a snap with 6 seconds left and quickly threw another pass to Ginn at the Houston 40 and turned to the official behind the line of scrimmage. The quarterback motioned for a timeout with 2 seconds left in what would soon become his 49th career fourth-quarter comeback win.
For Lutz, this was nothing new. Several players remembered how his first game as a Saints kicker in 2016 ended with his 61-yard attempt that went just left at the end of a 35-34 loss against Oakland in the Dome.
"We were going out there and we're looking at each other like, 'Here we go,'" Morstead said. "Same situation."
"When you have Drew as your quarterback, all I care about is getting ready for the kick," Lutz said. "I knew with 37 seconds left, that I was going to get a chance to kick it."
The game won't erase what happened in January. And based on the countless number of fans in the sellout crowd of more than 73,000 who wore referee costumes and red clown noses, the heartbreak from eight months ago will linger for quite some time.
The win also won't erase the defensive lapse in the final minute that let Houston score so quickly.
"Two plays," Payton said. "That wasn't really good football."
Nor does it absolve the refs for their incorrectly timed 10-second runoff that cost the Saints 15 seconds late in the first half. One that would have impacted the game more significantly had Brees and Co. not put Lutz in position to do what he did in the end. Again with no time left.