Inconsistent Saints enter bye week in adequate position
The New Orleans Saints’ 33-22 victory at Washington on Sunday was a fitting end to the team’s pre-bye week season.
The performance was imperfect, inconsistent and ultimately adequate.
The Saints had turnovers, damaging penalties and key injuries.
They went back and forth with a fellow inconsistent team.
But they won to improve to 3-2.
“A little sloppy in the beginning,” said Alvin Kamara, who had two touchdowns, “but picked it up.”
For five weeks the Saints have been erratic and have endured an unusually large number of absences by important players.
And yet among NFC South teams only Tampa Bay (4-1) has a better record than the Saints.
So an imperfect, inconsistent and ultimately adequate game concluded an imperfect, inconsistent and adequate five weeks.
So far, so good.
Jameis Winston threw an interception on the first possession of Sunday’s game, helping Washington to a quick 3-0 lead.
He later lost a fumble at the Saints 44, but that wouldn’t have led to points except Carl Granderson committed a roughing-the-punter penalty and Bradley Roby committed a defensive pass interference penalty.
So Washington grabbed a touchdown and a 13-7 lead, but that was its last lead of the game.
Winston – who enters the bye with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions – overcame the turnovers to throw four touchdown passes even though he completed just 15 and 30, finishing with 279 yards.
He had a career-long 72-yard touchdown pass to Deonte Harris for the Saints’ first score before Harris was sidelined by a hamstring injury, later being joined by Taysom Hill (concussion).
The penalties on Granderson and Roby helped Washington reach the end zone, but mostly the Saints prevented it from maximizing its scoring opportunities in the red zone.
On the other hand, the Saints maximized their opportunities.
Washington punted from its end zone and New Orleans took over at its 49 with eight seconds left in the first half. Winston launched a Hail Mary pass that a leaping Callaway caught in the end zone as time expired to give the Saints a 20-13 halftime lead.
“Man,” Winston said, “that was awesome to get some momentum to head into the half.”
That opportunity was set up when Blake Gillikin’s punt trickled out of the bounds at the one, the Saints stuffed Washington and head coach Sean Payton used his lone remaining timeout to get the ball back.
Gillikin would have two more punts that forced Washington to start at its two-yard line. He averaged 53.6 yards on five punts, earning a game ball.
Payton used the word “outstanding” four times in his 75-word answer to a question about Gillikin’s performance.
Ultimately, Washington possessed the ball for more than 36 minutes and reached the red zone five times, but came away with just two touchdowns.
“Three (points) not seven,” Lattimore said. “That’s the goal.”
Gillikin’s punting was the most special part of the special-teams performance, but kicker Cody Parkey missed two extra points in his Saints debut.
Parkey represents the Saints’ third attempt to find an adequate replacement for Wil Lutz since Lutz underwent groin-muscle surgery during training camp.
Neither Brett Maher nor Aldrick Rosas worked out before Parkey arrived this week. Lutz’s return is perhaps the most urgent among a lengthy list of injuries that includes most notably wide receivers Michael Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith, center Erik McCoy, tackle Terron Armstead, defensive end Marcus Davenport, linebacker Kwon Alexander and cornerback Ken Crawley, in addition to Harris and Hill.
Defensive tackle David Onyemata’s return from suspension is penciled in after the game at Seattle coming off the bye.
So the Saints roster will be consistently bolstered in the coming weeks.
And that means that under the circumstances this inconsistent start is adequate.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s 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. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…