Lost in the euphoria of the New Orleans Saints’ fourth consecutive win Sunday night was how the Saints got it.
Yes, there were the usual suspects on offense as Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston had their usual productive days in a satisfying 31-17 victory over the Detroit Lions in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
But an assist should go to the Saints’ defense — and, while you’re at it, give one to Lions coach Jim Schwartz as well.
Schwartz, a third-year coach, took most of the steam out of what could have been a fourth win after coming back from a 17-point deficit this season.
First things first.
Brees, who would be a bona fide MVP candidate if it weren’t for Aaron Rodgers, threw a pair of touchdown passes in the second quarter to help his team to a 24-7 halftime edge over the slumping Lions.
But after running only seven plays in the third quarter because the Lions controlled the ball for much of the period, and two more plays on their first possession of the fourth quarter, the NFL’s top-ranked offense was stuck in neutral while the Lions struck for 10 points, and, down 24-17, were on the hunt for more.
They marched right down and got within 35 yards of a game-tying touchdown, which would have silenced a nervous Superdome crowd, until Schwartz got in the way.
He sent in 41-year-old kicker Jason Hanson for a 55-yard field-goal attempt, just a yard shy of his career-long kick.
The kick slid wide left, which wouldn’t have been bad except the Saints and Brees got the ball at the spot of the miss: the Saints’ 45.
That’s where Brees and Graham, his record-setting second-year tight end, got it going when the offense needed them most.
Brees needed just seven plays to get his team into the end zone, throwing four of his five completions on the drive to Graham for 46 yards.
Just that quickly, the Saints had a two-touchdown lead and held on to it the rest of the way.
“Field position is important, so the challenge as a coach is you recognize when you want to attempt a long field goal,” Saints coach Sean Payton said of Schwartz’s decision. “The downside is not only the field position, but the momentum swings.”
Especially the field position.
Handing the ball to Brees at his 45 when he’s champing at the bit to get back on the field is only asking for trouble.
Still, Payton said he could understand what Schwartz was thinking with Hanson standing by his side — and might have done the same thing if he were in Schwartz’s shoes.
“They have one of the best kickers in the league,” said Payton. “I think, in our case, we attempt the same field goal — and you just hope you hit more than you miss.
“Capitalizing on the field position was important for us, and I think it was significant.”