A flash of anger may have turned out to be the spark the Saints needed to finally ignite their season.
New Orleans was teetering again after an 0-2 road start. Up 13-0 early in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after a pair of bang-bang touchdown drives to start the game, the offense flew off the rails and into a swamp through the second and third quarters while the Minnesota Vikings chip, chip, chipped away at the lead with field goals.
Now it was third-and-13 at the New Orleans 32, and the Saints needed a big play only up 13-9 as the third quarter’s final seconds spun away. Instead, it looked like the big play was being turned in by the Vikings as the pocket collapsed on Brees like a condemned building.
Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn got to the Saints quarterback and flung him helmet-first to the Superdome turf. Brees, normally the eye of calm in the midst of a hurricane known as an NFL game, went off like a mortar shell.
That he went after and shoved the first Viking in the vicinity, strong safety Robert Blanton, was of little consequence. Munnerlyn drew the 15-yard flag for unnecessary roughness, the penalty keeping alive what turned into a 90-yard drive — which Brees capped with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Marques Colston (making his first catch since his overtime fumble two weeks ago at Atlanta).
The Saints went on to win 20-9, a victory devoid of style points but beauty-pageant beautiful for New Orleans if for no other reason than 1-2 beats the heck out of 0-3.
Afterward, Brees could joke about “The Takedown” because A) his Saints won, and B) he wasn’t maimed in the process.
“That was a straight Hulk Hogan, 1985 WrestleMania suplex,” Brees said.
If it really were WrestleMania, the Saints would have been accused of scripting the moment.
It’s too early and too dramatic to say that Munnerlyn’s mistake turned the Saints’ season around.
But it sure helped the Saints go on to score and secure a win and regain some semblance of the confidence they had back in training camp.
It’s just one play and just one score and just one win. But never minimize the significance of the rally point.
Especially when it involves That Man.
Better for Munnerlyn to have spray-painted graffiti on the side of St. Louis Cathedral than to have messed with Brees, Breesus, the saint of Saints, His Majesty the Quarterback, the one who calls the congregation to worship at the Superdome every fall.
Brees erupted, the Superdome crowd went back into the full-throttle-jet-engine-at-takeoff mode it was in during the first quarter and his protective teammates had a cause to dedicate themselves to over the final 15 minutes.
“If you want to fire this team up,” right tackle Zach Strief said, “that’s the guy to go after.”
“It looked intentional to me when he tried to suplex him,” said Saints linebacker Junior Galette, himself skilled in the art of rushing the quarterback. “He had him wrapped up and, when you have him wrapped up, the play is basically dead. You just have to put him on the ground.
“But he tried to pick Drew up, and it looked bad. When you do something that intentional — like it’s something out of the WWE — they’re going to call it, and you’ll probably get fined. That’s not a natural football move. Drew gave up. There’s no need for that.”
Brees was asked whether there was any lingering bad blood between him and Munnerlyn, who before moving to Minnesota played for the Saints’ NFC South rival Carolina Panthers.
“No,” he said. “I actually like him. He came up to me about 30 seconds later and said, ‘That wasn’t a penalty.’ I said, ‘Yeah, it was, and thanks for the 15 yards.’ ”
More than that, the Saints can thank that Munnerlyn moment for perhaps at least beginning to restore New Orleans’ full faith and credit as a championship contender.
A little adrenaline can be a very good thing.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.