Sean Payton discretely knocked on wood last week after answering a question about Marshon Lattimore’s injury history and how the Saints made peace with it before selecting him in the first round of the draft.

The particle board saved Lattimore’s hamstrings, but it couldn't completely protect him. The cornerback suffered an ankle injury that knocked him out of action on Sunday. It remains to be seen if there will be lingering effects, both for Lattimore and the team, but that knock might have also saved New Orleans from making payment on some karmic vig.

New Orleans might have had its most important win on Sunday. Don’t confuse it with being the prettiest or best victory of the year — it was neither of those things. This is one that will be celebrated for one night. But if the players need sunglasses and Advil to face the morning light, they’ll likely pay a cost Monday morning because the coaching staff will have their heads ringing as they get torn into for multiple mistakes made during the 34-31 overtime victory over the Washington Redskins.

But that’s the key word in this equation: Victory. This was a game in which the Saints had a 0.32 percent chance of winning, according to various statistical calculations, with less than 5 minutes remaining the fourth quarter. That’s a valuable experience for a young team. Anyone can cruise when everything is right, but what will come to light when things are rough? And at times, the face of this game looked worse than Freddy Krueger after standing too close to a grill at a barbecue.

That’s what made the comeback so special.

“Whenever there’s adversity, you always welcome it,” linebacker Manti Te’o said. “You never shy away from adversity, because without adversity you can’t grow and you can’t really test yourself and see how strong you are. Adversity struck many times in this game, but we stuck together, and we kept our heads down and kept believing.”

Cam Jordan talked about this very topic last week when discussing what it’s like to have a group of players working to establish some stability on the defense. After having more than 100 players put on a uniform for the Saints defense since 2013, the organization finally has created a foundation that should remain in place for the foreseeable future.

The defensive end didn’t believe this group had completely leveled yet despite all the success early this season. It takes shared experiences to build stability. You need the ups and downs to be able to look at your teammates with any degree of confidence when times get rough.

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Sunday brought that moment. Before the final few minutes of the game, when the defense clamped down and took advantage of both Washington's collapse and the breaks it was given, nothing was easy. The defense, playing without linebacker A.J. Klein, safety Kenny Vaccaro, and, for the most part, Lattimore, struggled with communication and executing coverages, problems that haven't shown up en masse since a Week 2 loss to the Patriots.

The costliest instance came when cornerback De’Vante Harris and P.J. Williams blew a “banjo” coverage, which is a basic concept of switch and release. Both players went with wide receiver Jamison Crowder on an underneath route, allowing Washington receiver Ryan Grant to run free for a 40-yard touchdown.

There were many other examples. Safety Vonn Bell got screened on a 16-yard touchdown by Chris Thompson, when it looked like there should have been a switch. And it looked like the game was over when Crowder ran free on Washington’s final drive of regulation for a gain of 19 that put Washington in field-goal range, before an intentional grounding penalty on the next snap and a sack by Bell ended the threat.

"We turned a guy loose twice," Payton said. "When I say loose, like, no-one-else-around-him loose. We got to get that communication squared away. It's too good of a league for us to be doing that."

“We knew we had to communicate very well,” safety Rafael Bush said. “They do a lot of motioning; they do a lot of stacks, they got a lot of bunches. Normally guys just line up and they got space, and it’s easy for us to communicate. Today it gave us some trouble. That’s something we got to correct. Teams understand this is a copycat league, so we got to get that corrected.”

That’s why the locker room was a house of contradictions following Sunday’s game. In every corner, there were statements about how this is the best way to win, followed up with proclamations about how the Saints need to get better.

Both are true. The experience was great. The process wasn’t. There’s no shame in giving up 322 passing yards to a quarterback as good as Kirk Cousins, or even 31 points in a win, but it’s how those yards were generated. This team is beyond the standard of previous seasons.

And this game won’t cut it. The Saints gave up too much pressure and didn’t create enough. The third-down numbers (33 percent) were a step backward. The red-zone production (2 for 4) was weak, and a decision to hand the ball to a Redskins defender instead of an official potentially cost the Saints a shot at a touchdown to close the first half.

But as Jordan and Te’o said, to get real stability you need to have shared experiences and go through trying times together. This was as trying as it gets, but the Saints learned something about themselves.

“It’s going to take a lot to break us,” cornerback De’Vante Harris said. “You’re going to get our best every single time we’re out there on the field.”

Sometimes you have to face some ugly situations to learn a lesson.


Follow Nick Underhill on Twitter, @nick_underhill.​