10 memorable moments from Saints regular season
There’s no Saints game this weekend.
One of the perks of being the No. 1 seed in the NFC is that New Orleans gets to sit back, relax and automatically advance to the divisional round of the playoffs while waiting to see if Philadelphia, Seattle or Dallas earns the right to visit it in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Jan. 13.
In the meantime here’s a look back at 10 memorable moments that have put the 2018 just two home victories away from a trip to Super Bowl LIII:
1 And so it begins
The Saints are in danger of falling to 0-2 before they even play a road game.
They already have lost, 48-40, as a prohibitive favorite against Tampa Bay and now the Cleveland Browns, who are winless in 18 consecutive games, are in position to hand them another loss, one that would put their long-term goals in deep trouble in mid-September.
It has been an uphill battle, but one New Orleans will win.
The Saints don’t take their first lead of the game until 2:40 remained as they edge in front 18-12.
The Browns strike back with a touchdown, but Zane Gonzalez, who missed an extra point in the third quarter, misses another, leaving the score tied at 18 with 1:16 left.
Wil Lutz kicks a field goal to put the Saints ahead, 21-18, with 21 seconds left, but the Browns get into position to tie in the final seconds. Then Gonzalez misses again, this time from 52 yards, and the Saints win.
It took a little luck – well, actually a lot – but the Saints will win nine more times before that second loss finally does occur.
2 Crazy Legs Brees
Drew Brees’ leap to gain a yard or less has become a staple of the Saints’ short-yardage offense, but in the third game of the season at Atlanta he shows off more skill in the run game.
Brees scrambles seven yards for a touchdown with 1:15 left in the fourth quarter, tying the score at 37 and leading to overtime.
At the end of the first possession of overtime, Brees returns to his more familiar form and leaps one yard for a touchdown.
New Orleans prevails 43-37 and starts picking up a little steam that continues through a 33-18 victory at the New York Giants a week later.
3 Taking Peyton’s place
Monday Night Football. Sold-out Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
First-place New Orleans vs. first-place Washington.
Mark Ingram’s return from a four-game suspension.
There’s a lot of going on here, but this game, this night, is all about Brees.
He throws a 62-yard touchdown pass to rookie Tre’Quan Smith in the second quarter to break Peyton Manning’s NFL record for career passing yards.
It’s a big-time play that has a big-time impact on the most impressive performance to date – a 43-19 triumph that sends New Orleans into its open date on a roll.
4 How could he do that?
Another opposing kicker helps the Saints out.
It’s another opponent from the AFC North.
The Baltimore Ravens score a touchdown in the final minute of the fourth quarter to put themselves and the Saints on the cusp of overtime.
Justin Tucker has made all 222 extra points in his NFL career.
He misses No. 223.
It sails wide right as a stunned crowd in Baltimore looks on in disbelief.
The Saints prevail, 24-23, for their fifth consecutive victory and it’s starting to look like something special is happening with this team.
5 Bye, bye, demons
The Saints are in Minnesota, scene of a gut-wrenching playoff loss in January.
The 2017 team was one tackle away from a remarkable comeback victory that would have placed them in the NFC Championship Game for the first time since they won the Super Bowl after the 2009 season.
But rookie Marcus Williams missed a seemingly routine tackle and Stefon Diggs sprinted to a touchdown.
From a trip the NFC title game to a long plane ride home for the end of the season in the blink of an eye.
It was a dark could that hung over the team throughout the off-season.
But this is the middle of a new season.
The Saints are back in Minnesota and they trail early but come back to take the lead.
P.J. Williams reads the pass pattern perfectly, jumps the route, snares a Kirk Cousins pass and sprints 45 yards for a touchdown. The Saints lead, 27-13, in the third quarter and prevail, 30-20.
Demons officially exorcised as the win streak reaches six.
6 No place like home
The Los Angeles Rams are the last undefeated team in the NFL.
They come into the Superdome to face the once-beaten Saints. The top two teams in the NFC are going head to head with the winner picking up a game on the loser and grabbing the head-to-head tie-breaker.
The outcome could well decide home-field for the NFC Championship Game some 11 weeks later.
The score is tied at 14. Then the Saints score 21 straight points. Then the Rams score 21 straight points. Tied again at 35.
Lutz kicks a field goal and the Saints lead, 38-35.
Then comes the exclamation point. On third and seven from his own 28 Brees launches a 72-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas.
Saints up by 10, 3:52 left. The score stays that way.
And ultimately the winner of this showdown does claim home-field throughout the NFC playoffs.
7 Defense arrives
The Saints are leading the host Bengals 28-7 late in the second quarter.
Cincinnati has just reached the outer edge of field-goal range. It’s looking for a field goal, or better yet a touchdown, to make the deficit a little more manageable and provide some hope for a second-half comeback.
Andy Dalton lofts a pass toward the goal line. Williams sees it coming. He intercepts the pass in stride at the 5 and runs 78 yards to the Bengals 17.
He also leaves Brees eight seconds. Time for one shot at a touchdown before kicking a field. Brees. Thomas. Touchdown. Ball game.
The winning streak has reached eight. The Saints score 51 but more importantly the defense is beginning a stretch in which it will prove to be an equal partner with the offense. This is the first of six straight games in which the Saints will allow 17 or fewer points.
8 Feasting on Falcons
Thanksgiving night in the Superdome.
Tommylee Lewis. Austin Carr. Dan Arnold. Keith Kirkwood.
All four of those players catch touchdown passes from Brees. All four entered the NFL as undrafted free agents.
Saints cruise, 21-17. Win streak reaches 10.
9 Division champs again
The winning streak ended 10 days earlier in Dallas when the Saints scored just 10 points.
And here they are in the third quarter and they have scored just three against the Buccaneers. Trail by 11.
Are they about to lose to Tampa Bay? Again?
A losing streak after that 10-game winning streak?
No. No. No.
Taysom Hill breaks through and blocks a punt.
Five plays later Brees throws a 1-yard touchdown pass to Zach Line. Then Brees leaps a yard for a touchdown. Then Ingram runs 17 yards for a touchdown. Lutz kicks a field goal.
No losing streak.
A 25-0 blitz gives the Saints a 28-14 victory.
And they are division champions for a second consecutive season for the first time in franchise history.
10 The team to beat
It’s week 17. The Saints have two cracks at wrapping up the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. All they have to do is beat the Steelers in the Dome, or a week later beat the Panthers, who they had just beaten on the road, in the Dome and they won’t be on the road again until either the Super Bowl or next season.
There’s no time like the present.
A Brees touchdown pass to Thomas gives the Saints a 31-28 lead with 1:25 left.
But the Steelers, fighting for a division title of their own, aren’t done yet.
They reach the New Orleans 42. First down. Ben Roethlisberger connects with JuJu Smith-Shuster for 8 yards to reach field-goal rage with 41 seconds left.
But Sheldon Rankins nails Smith-Schuster and the ball comes out. Demario Davis falls on it.
Brees kneels down.
And here we are.
And the road to the Super Bowl passes down Poydras Street.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…