Man, things have really improved in New Orleans since the Saints lost their season-opener to the Tampa Bay Bucs. This Sunday’s improbable, dramatic win over the Ravens just solidified the fact that this year’s Saints team might really be something special. At 5-1 and leading the NFC South, New Orleans and Drew Brees are definite Super Bowl contenders.
Taking on the nation’s best defensive team in Baltimore, the Saint’s spectacular 24-23 win had fans organizing a welcome-home party for their beloved players at the New Orleans airport.
This was a nail-biter. For the Saints to clinch the victory, it required one of the best kickers in the league – Justin Tucker, a guy who has never missed an extra point attempt in his college and pro career – to miss the extra point. And he did. (Some are calling it destiny.) And remember how we said the Ravens defense hadn’t allowed a single second-half touchdown all season so far? This week they allowed two. In Baltimore!
So who do we have to thank for the Saints’ unbelievable, come-from-behind win? Well, for starters…
Drew Brees is Ridiculous
The 39-year-old is playing as well as ever. Drew Brees threw his 500th career touchdown pass during Sunday’s game against the Ravens. He’s the fourth NFL quarterback to accomplish the feat (remember how Tom Brady just did it the other week?), but Brees isn’t concerned about that. He’s just focused on winning.
Though the Saints were down at halftime and trailing by 17-7 in the fourth quarter, Brees made clutch play after clutch play. He completed 22 of 30 passes, only racking up 212 yards and two touchdowns, but it was those fourth-quarter touchdown drives that led his team to victory. His win over the Ravens – for the first time in his career – means he’s now beaten all 32 NFL teams. And then he threw his 501st touchdown…
No big deal.
Brees converted three quarterback sneaks into first downs, he carried the ball when he had to, and he helped his team score 17 points in the final quarter. Despite relatively unimpressive numbers, Brees got it done through subtleties. After the game, Saints Head Coach Sean Payton remarked, “There’s an old saying, ‘It doesn’t have to be aesthetically pleasing to be effective. I think [Brees] was spot on today.”
After Week 7, Brees is the only NFL quarterback with no interceptions this season. He leads the league with a passer rating of 121.6, a career best.
The Saints Offense
This game was a true test of the best offense in the NFL. And for the first three quarters, the Ravens defense – also the best in the NFL – succeeded in keeping the Saints at bay. They didn’t sack the hell out of Brees like they did Marcus Mariota in Week 6 (just the one time in the fourth quarter). But they did cut off breakaways by Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara. But the New Orleans offense stayed patient, wearing down the Ravens defense by the fourth quarter. Finally, John Harbaugh’s men looked tired.
A combination of short throws and short runs – all that the Ravens defense would give them – helped the Saints move the chains time and time again. Only 4 out of 70 offensive plays gained them more than 15 yards. The Saints ran for 134 yards, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry, but it worked. Payton called for his team to go for it on fourth down five times. And four out of those five times, they got it.
Led by Brees, the offense kept making plays and kept moving forward. After the game, Ravens safety Eric Weddle commented, “Not many guys can do that in the history of the game. I think we played well at times; other times, he made incredible plays and got first downs to continue drives.”
According to Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs, “They just executed. They’re the number-one offense, and they’ve got one hell of a quarterback. We knew that going in. They were able to keep drives going. They made one more play than us.” The Ravens defense was also missing two of its starters, James Hurst and Alex Lewis, who were both out with injuries, leaving their spots to be filled by rookies.
And well, it didn’t hurt that Tucker missed that extra point…
Some serious tests for the Saints. They play the Vikings on the road next week and then come back home to host the undefeated Rams. In fact, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index and their opposing team’s win percentage, the Saints have the toughest remaining schedule of any team in the league. Still, even before this week’s win, Vegas had given New Orleans top-four odds to win Super Bowl 53. They’re the only one-loss team left in the NFC after all.
So yeah, it’ll be a long road to the postseason, but if anybody can do it, it’s Drew Brees and the Saints.