Wild Second Half: Saints edge Texans on Lutz’s 58-yard kick

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NEW ORLEANS – The Houston Texans came into New Orleans having made huge changes to their roster in the final 10 days leading up the regular season.

The thought process was that its offensive line was a bit of a liability. That was not entirely the case Monday night.

The Texans gashed the Saints for 180 yards rushing and 414 total yards. It was clear that the Saints sorely missed Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata at times, although the defense came up with six sacks.

The visiting AFC South foe won the first half. The Saints won the second half and won the game.

New Orleans put up 510 yards of offense as its star quarterback overcame a bad interception early to play like he always plays and its star running back was a star and its star wide receiver was superb.

Drew Brees completed 32-of-43 passes for 370 yards and two touchdowns and one interception. Alvin Kamara had 13 carries for 97 yards and caught seven passes for 72 yards.

The Saints needed every inch of it.

In the end, they needed more and got it with a clutch, 58-yard field goal by Wil Lutz, who is clearly among the very best kickers in the NFL.

It was some opener for Monday Night Football. While Saints fans may have barely dodged heart attacks, the Saints attack proved just good enough to escape with a win against an AFC playoff team of a year ago.

Here are my Quick Takes from the thrilling 30-28 victory over Houston:

**The Saints signed Mitchell Loewen from the practice squad and released defensive end Wes Horton. Loewen played in three games combined for New Orleans in 2017 and 2018.

**Inactives for the Saints were Austin Carr, Ken Crawley, Mario Edwards Jr., Ethan Greenidge, Saquan Hampton, Sheldon Rankins

**The Saints honored the Louisiana Little League World Series champions in pre-game ceremonies.

**New Orleans won the toss and deferred, giving Houston the ball first.

**Sean Payton challenged an 11-yard completion from Deshaun Watson to DeAndre Hopkins on the first offensive series and won the challenge as the pass was ruled incomplete after review.

**On the next play, Cam Jordan sacked Watson to force a punt.

**Vonn Bell was flagged for an illegal block on the Houston punt, pinning the Saints back at their own 14-yard line.

**On the first offensive series for the Saints, Brees threw it all five times, completing all five passes for 51 yards but New Orleans still had to punt.

**On the second Houston offensive series, Malcolm Brown and Shy Tuttle combined on a sack.

**New Orleans drove to the Houston 11-yard line but Brees, rolling right after not finding anyone initially, made a bad decision and was picked off by Whitney Mercilus at the six-yard line. Brees did not see Mercilus on the play.

**Houston then got the big play, a 54-yard completion from Watson to Will Fuller over Eli Apple, who was beaten on the play.

**The Texans went on to drive 94 yards in eight plays. On fourth and inches from the New Orleans 21, Watson faked a handoff and ran left for a touchdown, hydroplaning into the end zone. He was slow to rise but he was fine as Houston took a 7-0 lead with 14:13 to play in the first half. The drive covered 3:42.

**The Saints responded with a good drive, going 65 yards in 11 plays but the drive stalled and Lutz kicked a 32-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 7-3 with 9:22 to play in the second quarter. The big play of the drive was as 31-yard pass from Brees to Jared Cook.

**Houston then tortured the Saints defense to the tune of a 16 play, 75-yard drive and took 7:35 off the clock with Watson hitting DeAndre Hopkins on a two-yard touchdown pass to give the Texans a 14-3 lead with 1:47 to play in the half. P.J. Williams had a costly defensive holding penalty when it looked like the Saints may have a stop while Houston overcame two penalties on the drive.

**Houston’s first two drives went nowhere, netting 15 yards on nine snaps. On the next two possessions, the Texans had 23 plays for 169 yards and two touchdowns.

**New Orleans drove to the Houston 38-yard line on its final possession of the half but Lutz missed a 56-yard field goal wide left as time expired.

**On that series, the officials stopped the game for a replay review of a catch by Michael Thomas, who clearly made the catch. Initially, he was not given a first-down but replay gave him one.

**That was the good news. The bad news is that the officiating crew took 10 seconds away from the Saints, taking the clock from 26 to 16 seconds left, limiting what the Saints could do. With another play, Brees could have gotten better field position for Lutz.

**Former NFL Vice President of Officiating Mike Perreira tweeted that the officiating crew mishandled the replay, saying they should have reset the clock to 41 seconds and then run 10 seconds down to 31, costing the Saints 15 seconds.

**The Texans had 204 yards in the half to 181 for the Saints but the Texans had 85 yards rushing to just 21 for the Saints.

**New Orleans had 23 pass attempts and just six rushes in the half. Houston had 17 pass attempts and 13 rushes.

**The second half started well for the Saints as they drove 83 yards in 11 plays with Latavius Murray scoring on a 30-yard run to cut the deficit to 14-10 with 12:51 to play in the third quarter. The blocking on the play was sensational. No one put a hand on Murray.

**The touchdown was set up by a 41-yard completion from Brees to Kamara, who got a good matchup with linebacker Zach Cunningham and won it convincingly.

**Undaunted, Houston responded.

**The newly signed Loewen committed a crucial error, jumping offside which cost Marshon Lattimore an interception.

**On the next play, Watson hit Hopkins on a 16-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-10 Houston with 8:20 to play in the third quarter. The drive covered 71 yards in nine plays, taking 4:31 off the clock. Watson converted third down after third down, including an 18-yard run to sustain the drive.

**The Saints responded once again, driving 75 yards in 11 plays, taking 5:41 off the clock with Brees hitting Taysom Hill on a nine-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to 21-17 with 2:39 to play in the third quarter.

**The defense finally came up with the big play as Marcus Williams read Watson perfectly as Watson tried to go deep for Fuller. Williams broke perfectly on the ball and picked it off. On the play, Hopkins body slammed Williams, incurring a personal foul as well.

**New Orleans took total advantage, driving 49 yards in four plays with Brees hitting Tre’Quan Smith on a 14-yard touchdown pass to give the Saints their first lead of the game at 24-21 with 14:55 to play in the game.

**Thomas Morstead drilled a 53-yard punt which went out of bounds at the Houston four-yard linen with 7:44 to play in the game. It was a tremendous punt. Morstead remains a gem for the Saints.

**Williams left the game injured in the final quarter.

**Deonte Harris made a terrible decision to fair catch a punt at the four-yard line but was bailed out by a penalty. Later, he signaled for a fair catch and tried to run with the ball and was penalized, pinning the Saints back to their own seven-yard line with 3:29 to play in the game. While the young man has ability and was brilliant in the preseason, we must again be reminded that it is the preseason.

**With the game in the balance, the Saints had it third-and-two from their own 15-yard line. Brees calmly hit Ted Ginn Jr. on a 41-yard pass and a first down to the Houston 44-yard line. Ginn can still run. He whipped Aaron Colvin on the play.

**That led to a 47-yard field goal by Lutz to increase the lead to 27-21 with 50 seconds remaining.

**It was not enough. It took just two plays for the Texans to take the lead. Watson hit Hopkins for 38 yards, beating Lattimore, to the New Orleans 37-yard line. Then, Watson his former Saints wideout Kenny Stills on a 37-yard touchdown pass to tie the game.

**It looked like New Orleans got a break when Ka’imi Fairbairn missed the extra point but rookie C.J. Gardner-Johnson was flagged for roughing the kicker, giving Fairbairn a second chance and he cashed it in to give Houston the lead.

New Orleans got the ball with 37 seconds left and just one timeout at its own 25-yard line.

With a Hall of Fame quarterback, that was just enough.

Brees hit Ginn for 15 yards, connected with Thomas for 11 yards and hit Ginn again for nine yards to the 40-yard line with two seconds left, taking the final timeout.

Lutz came on and put the ball through the uprights with about four or five yards to spare.

Morten Andersen was perhaps the best kicker in NFL history. He had many memorable kicks in New Orleans to win games. Tom Dempsey’s 63-yard field goal on the final play of the game to beat the Detroit Lions 19-17 on Nov. 8, 1970 is still the benchmark in franchise history. It won the game and it was an NFL record that would stand for 43 years.

It is safe to say that the Lutz kick is right there with Dempsey’s kick. It was the final play of the game. It was a long distance. It provided a huge win. The difference is that this version of the Saints is light years better than the 1970 Saints.

After his first miss, Lutz said afterwards that he told his teammates he was not going to miss again. He was true to his word.

It was an epic failure by the Saints defense in the final minute. There is no other way to state it. It was an epic success by the offense and by Lutz in the final seconds.

A win is a win.

Houston is a good team. The Saints had just enough to pull out a victory and snap their five-game losing streak on opening day (or night).

How important is that?

The next three weeks find the Saints at Los Angeles to play the Rams and at Seattle to play the Seahawks before coming home to play a good Dallas squad. Those are three very difficult games against three NFC contenders.

A loss to Houston would have put the Saints in a precarious position. Instead, they are in first place in the NFC South and will be suitably motivated in Los Angeles next week.

There is much to improve upon. The performance by New Orleans on this night will not make the Saints a Super Bowl contender but the win will certainly keep the team on track for the ultimate goal.

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Ken Trahan

Ken Trahan

Owner/CEO

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE Owner and CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Football Foundation, College…

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