As a matter of policy, Saints quarterback Drew Brees doesn’t like to compare teams he’s played on. New Orleans coach Sean Payton likes doing it even less.
But behind the horse-collar hug Brees put on Payton and the matching set of 100-watt smiles they wore as they left the field Sunday after a miraculous 34-31 overtime victory over the Washington Redskins had to be the feeling that everyone is feeling:
It’s getting very 2009 around here.
That was the season of the Saints’ Super Bowl championship, producing a Vince Lombardi Trophy that rests on the high, holy altar of New Orleans’ sports achievements (not that it’s much of a contest). That season, the Saints went to Washington and pulled out (no, pulled out is wrong; stole is more like it) a 33-30 overtime victory to win their 12th of 13 straight games to start the year.
In that one, Robert Meachem (rather eerily he was watching from the sidelines Sunday) stripped a defender of his interception and returned it for a touchdown and the Saints dodged a 23-yard field goal miss by Shaun Suisham to even force overtime. Sunday, the Saints rallied from 31-16 down in the final six minutes of regulation, with Kendall Fuller's interception of Brees overruled by an illegal-use-of-hands penalty on Fuller. That led to the bobbled-then-caught 18-yard Brees-to-Alvin Kamara touchdown pass that set up the Kamara 2-point run to force overtime.
What was true in 2009 in Washington was true in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday: The Saints stole another one they should have lost.
“When you have wins like this, it’s the number one thing you’ll miss when you finish playing or you finish coaching,” Payton said. “The excitement of getting one you think maybe you’re not going to get.”
Sometimes a bit of larceny is good for the soul.
It’s certainly good for the win-loss record.
New Orleans is 8-2 with eight straight wins, the Saints’ longest winning streak since an eight-win streak in 2011. It keeps them only a game in front of the idle Carolina Panthers — their visit to the Superdome on Dec. 3 will be a blockbuster showdown — so a little fear of being caught is good for the soul, too.
It certainly seemed like the Saints were going to meet their doom for the first time since a 36-20 loss to New England here in Week 2 (was that this season?). Everything was lining up against New Orleans. Starting safety Kenny Vaccaro was inactive with an injury, and then on Washington’s first drive, super rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore hurt his ankle breaking up a pass and didn’t return.
It quickly showed how fragile the mighty can be in the NFL. It always seemed Kirk Cousins was an inch out of the Saints’ pass-rushing grasp, as he racked up 322 yards on several big pass plays, including a beat-the-blitz 40-yarder to wide-open Ryan Grant, a former Tulane receiver. When Cousins wasn’t throwing, Samaje Perine or Chris Thompson was rushing for 4, 5, 6 yards at a time.
Down 15 with six minutes left, the Saints improbably needed:
• Two touchdowns
• A two-point conversion
• Two stops of the Redskins offense that had already hung 31 points on them.
Just perfect. Seven straight wins in the NFL makes you think you can do anything.
“You come in the huddle and you hear Drew say, ‘All right, here we go,’ ” Kamara recalled.
“That’s when you know it’s on.”
Brees has long established his first-ballot Hall of Fame credentials. Sunday, he might have outdone even himself. Fuller’s nullified interception notwithstanding, on the final two regulation drives Brees was 11 for 11 passing for 164 yards.
“It doesn’t really surprise me,” said Michael Thomas, who led the Saints with six catches for 91 yards. “I love to be witness to that.”
After a day of boring holes in the Saints defense, Cousins tripped over his feet of clay. After they tied the score, the Saints left him 65 seconds to drive into field goal range. With three straight darts to Jamison Crowder, Cousins did exactly that, moving the Redskins from their 25 to the Saints 34.
Then, inexplicably, Cousins sizzled one into his bench under pressure with no receiver in the area. Intentional grounding. A 10-yard penalty backed Washington up to the Saints 44, and Vonn Bell sacked Cousins as the clock ran out in regulation.
“We weathered the storm,” defensive end Cam Jordan said.
In overtime, the Redskins won the toss but were quickly overwhelmed. Vernon Davis, the Saints slayer, dropped a pass. Then Jordan sacked Cousins for minus-10. Then Perine dropped a pass that wouldn’t have netted a first down anyway. Tommylee Lewis returned a punt to the Saints 39, and two Mark Ingram runs set up Wil Lutz’s 28-yard game-winning chip shot.
Half the Mercedes-Benz Superdome had emptied out by that point, with the other half of Sunday’s crowd in their cars wondering why they hadn’t stayed (though they’ll tell you at work this week they did).
High up in their Plaza perch, Chris Ledet from Harvey and his girlfriend Belinda Jeffrey stayed until most of the crowd finally melted away, dancing into the sunshiny afternoon.
“In the past we probably wouldn’t have come back,” Ledet said, “but this year is totally different. We’ve got that magic and that energy.”
Maybe it isn’t that different.
Maybe it’s that same magic and energy the Saints had in 2009.