Saints start slow, finish fast, end losing streak in openers

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In the last two seasons, the Saints have started slowly and quickly turned things around.

That’s what they did in their season opener against the Houston Texans on Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

They fell behind 14-3 at halftime, 21-10 in the third quarter and squandered a 27-21 lead in the final minute before rallying in the final half minute.

“I knew we hadn’t started a season well lately,” Lutz said, “and I knew how big that kick was.”

That kick was a 58-yard field goal as time expired, producing a 30-28 victory that ended New Orleans’ losing streak in season openers at five.

Though the first three losses in that streak set the tone for 7-9 finishes, the last two Saints teams responded much better to their opening losses.

In 2017, they started 0-2 then won their next eight games on their way to an 11-5 regular-season finish and an NFC South championship.

They won a wild-card playoff game against Carolina and were about to advance to the NFC Championship Game when a missed tackle allowed Minnesota to complete a 69-yard touchdown pass as time expired, turning an apparent victory into a defeat in a divisional playoff.

Last season the Saints bounced back from a season-opening loss to Tampa Bay to win their next 10 games on their way to a 13-3 record and another division title.

They narrowly missed going to the Super Bowl last season in a controversial overtime loss in an NFC Championship Game that featured an egregious missed pass interference call on the Rams that led the NFL to alter its instant-replay rules.

The bounce back was nearly as dramatic Monday night.

Houston held a 14-3 halftime lead before Latavius Murray ran 30 yards for a touchdown on the first possession of the third quarter.

The Texans responded on the ensuing possession as Deshaun Watson threw a 16-yard touchdown to DeAndre Hopkins.

Brees answered with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Taysom Hill, cutting Houston’s lead to 21-17 after three quarters.

New Orleans took its first lead on Brees’ 14-yard touchdown to Tre’Quan Smith on the first play of the fourth quarter and Lutz added a 47-yard field goal with 50 seconds remaining.

The Texans’ go-ahead drive began with 50 seconds left as Watson, who ran 20 yards for a second-quarter touchdown run, connected with DeAndre Hopkins, who caught two touchdown passes, for a 37-yard gain.

Watson then connected with former Saint Kenny Stills, acquired just a week earlier in a trade with Miami, for a 37-yard touchdown.

“We didn’t play really smart when we got the lead,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “We gave up a big play to their top receiver (Hopkins). That’s bad football. We can’t allow that to happen.”

Ka’Imi Fairbairn missed the extra point, but Saints rookie C.J. Gardner-Johnson roughed him and Faiirbairn was good on the second try to break the tie.

But Brees, who overcame a slow start and a first-quarter red-zone interception to complete 32 of 43 for 370 yards, still had time.

“The challenge of that drive is 37 seconds with one timeout,” Brees said. “You want to try and save that timeout if at all possible. You need to get yards in chunks to get into field-goal range.”

Brees started the drive with a 15-yard completion to Ted Ginn Jr., then spiked the ball with 20 seconds left.

Then he found Michael Thomas for an 11-yard completion and spiked the ball with six seconds left.

Then came a 9-yarder to Ginn and the Saints called their final timeout with two seconds left.

“He’s Drew. I don’t know what else to say,” said Saints running back Alvin Kamara, who had 169 all-purpose yards. “He is the general. He is the leader. He does what he has to do. When he’s in there, we know that we can get it done.”

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Les East

Les East

CCS/Times-Picayune

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…

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