The New Orleans Saints kept their win steak alive with a 34-31 comeback victory over the Washington Redskins in week 11. Down 15 points with 5:58 remaining in the fourth quarter, New Orleans quickly scored two touchdowns and added a two-point conversation on the second to force overtime. The Redskins punted on the first possession of the extra period, and a field goal by Saints kicker Wil Lutz ended the game moments later.
The Saints are now the first team since 1947 to start a season 0-2, and win eight straight games. However, for the first three quarters against Washington, New Orleans looked more like the team that under-performed in weeks one and two rather than a Superbowl contender. Here are three takeaways from an ugly, but resilient Saints win.
Week 11 New Orleans Saints Takeaways
Injuries Piling up on Defense
The Saints were without safety Kenny Vaccaro and linebacker A.J. Klein against Washington, and cornerback Marshon Lattimore exited in the first quarter with an ankle injury. The absence of these three key defensive starters had a noticeable impact on the game, as their replacements struggled to rise to the occasion.
Safety Vonn Bell struggled in Vaccaro’s role as a hybrid nickle-back/linebacker, and was beaten in coverage on the Redskins first touchdown. Linebacker Michael Mauti gave up a long completion to Redskins tight end Vernon Davis, and missed two critical tackles in the fourth quarter with time running out. At cornerback, De’Vante Harris and P.J. Williams were caught in the same types of coverage breakdowns that put them on the bench early in the season.
To make matters worse, starting defensive end Alex Okafor left in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be a serious leg injury. The Saints have good depth at this position with rookie Trey Hendrickson and Hau’oli Kikaha, however they’re now dangerously thin at linebacker and cornerback. Hopefully New Orleans will get some defensive starters back before they face the NFL’s highest scoring offense next week against the Los Angeles Rams.
Clutch Performance by Drew Brees
Prior to week 11, the Saints had won primarily with a productive running game, and aggressive play on defense. Quarterback Drew Brees had two games where he finished with under 200 passing yards, and two others with no touchdown passes in that span. For the first time since their early season losses, New Orleans needed their future Hall of Fame passer to bail them out, and Brees did not let them down.
On the Saints opening drive, Brees threw an interception, and dealt with a furious Redskins pass rush all day. He struggled to find receivers downfield for most of the game as Washington sacked him twice, and hit him on seven other attempts. Unfazed by this adversity, Brees came alive in the fourth quarter. He completed all 11 of his passes on the Saints late scoring drives, including touchdown passes to tight end Coby Fleener, and running back Alvin Kamara. Brees finished 29 of 41 passing for a season-high 385 yards.
While this was a thrilling win for one of the NFL’s hottest teams, there’s no doubt that the Saints took a step back this week. The defense allowed 456 total yards, including 300 passing yards; their most since week two in both categories. They also gave up 4.7 yards per rush, matching their season average that ranks 30th in the league. The offense converted on only four of their 12 third down attempts, and struggled to keep up with the Redskins offense for three-and-a-half quarters. This isn’t the type of follow-up performance you’d expect from a team that won by 37 points on the road last week.
In 2009 when New Orleans won their only Superbowl, they pulled off a similar miraculous comeback, and managed to win an ugly week 13 game against the Redskins. This feat is still remembered fondly among Saints fans, but what many forget is that the Saints went 1-3 in their remaining regular season games before pulling themselves back together in the postseason.
With such a competitive race in the NFC currently, New Orleans won’t be able to to limp into the playoffs with homefield advantage like they did in 2009. The Saints to view this game as a wake-up call if they want to pass the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings in the standings, and secure the top seed.