In a wild game that featured 73 points, 927 total yards and three lead changes in the final 7-1/2 minutes alone, it would have been pretty easy to lose sight of anything done on defense Sunday in the Superdome.
Defense? What defense?
If you glanced only at the final score and the final head-spinning statistics from a game featuring two of the NFL’s top offenses in the Houston Texans and New Orleans Saints, you would have thought both defenses were virtually nonexistent.
But despite a 23-point explosion in the final 9-1/2 minutes by the Saints’ offense, which lifted New Orleans to an exhilarating 40-33 victory, the defense more than did its part.
Especially in the first half, when the Texans had opportunity after opportunity to grab a commanding lead and take the air completely out of the Saints and their energetic fans.
Especially in the final quarter, when a takeaway and two other timely stops sent Drew Brees and his potent offense back out on the field for scoring opportunities that they cashed in on.
While the ending was important, it wouldn’t have meant a thing had the Saints’ defense not held on for dear life in the first half.
The irony of the Saints wearing replica uniforms of the franchise’s early years in the late 1960s wasn’t lost on coach Sean Payton.
“I thought in the first half we looked a little like the ‘67 Saints,” he said in his postgame news conference.
Despite being shredded for 301 total yards, the Saints trailed just 16-10 at halftime because they forced the Texans to kick three chip-shot field goals - and yet another on Houston’s first possession of the second half.
After being hit for a touchdown in the red zone on the Texans’ first possession, the Saints threw up a wall.
On Houston’s next four trips inside the Saints’ 20, they could get no closer than the New Orleans’ 4, 9, 9 and 18.
In those four red-zone opportunities that netted field goals instead of touchdowns, the Saints held the Texans to 11 yards on 11 plays with five incompletions and a total of eight snaps that failed to gain positive yardage.
Even though the Texans netted 12 points, it was a win for the Saints’ defense each time as they saved their team a total of 16 points - keeping the potential final score from being 49-40 in favor of the visitors.
“We had a chance to score more,” said Texans coach Gary Kubiak, whose team is now 5-for-16 in scoring touchdowns in the red zone this season. “We had a lot of opportunities in the red zone. I told the guys if we had played better in the red zone, we probably would get out of here with a win.”
But the Saints’ defense had other ideas.
“It’s kind of an unwritten rule around here,” defensive end Will Smith said. “When we’re down, we have to put it on our shoulders and get stops to win the game. We made them kick a lot of field goals, and it paid off in the end.”