CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Anyone who’s watched the New Orleans Saints for a long period of time, and we’re going back 30 to 40 years here, knows how hard it used to be for them to win games.
More often then not, the old Saints found ways to lose them in the end rather than win them, which partially explains why the expansion franchise had 20 non-winning seasons in a row before breaking through in 1987.
Bad offenses. Atrocious defenses. Bizarre penalties. Devastating losses.
All of which came to mind Sunday when the Saints found a way to win a game they could have easily lost.
An excitable Carolina Panthers team had momentum on its side after two second-half touchdowns gave them a 27-23 lead, and they appeared to be on the verge of finishing the Saints off when they got the ball back early in the fourth quarter.
But then, the Panthers made the kind of tactical mistake the old Saints used to make.
Despite rushing for 162 yards as a team to that point, including runs of 8 and 9 yards by Jonathan Stewart to start the drive, the Panthers, on third-and-2 from their 45, inexplicably tried to throw a deep ball to Steve Smith.
It wasn’t third-and-15, so why not hand the ball to Stewart, or DeAngelo Williams, who already had 115 rushing yards with a 69-yard TD dash, or let 248-pound quarterback Cam Newton work some magic with his legs?
All were better options than letting Newton, who has posted some remarkable passing numbers, wing it at this early stage in his career.
And the Saints made them pay for it with an 89-yard touchdown drive that produced the go-ahead score with 50 seconds to play and another stop by their defense when the Panthers needed only to get in field-goal range to send the game to overtime.
Just like that, in a little more than seven minutes of clock time, the Saints had a 30-27 victory they weren’t about to apologize for after doing the things that set Sean Payton’s team apart from others.
They finished, which was their mantra that propelled them to a 13-3 season and a victory in Super Bowl XLIV just two seasons ago.
Sunday’s win doesn’t mean the Saints are going to win the Super Bowl again in February, but it shows they can be in the hunt if their defense can play like the 2009 defense did and complement their productive offense the way it did against Carolina.
“As long as we’ve got No. 9,” Saints strong safety Roman Harper said of four-time Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees, “we’ve got a chance.”
It’s the kind of confidence that oozes from the offense all the way to the defense taking it in on the sideline.
“There was never any doubt they would score in that situation,” middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma said of the offense’s clutch drive. “If there was any doubt, we didn’t know it, because we were getting ready to go back out there and get ready to defend in the two-minute drill.”