OAKLAND, Calif. — Earlier in the week, New Orleans Saints Coach Joe Vitt said he was nervous about playing the Oakland Raiders.
Vitt said it all came down to the numbers.
Since 2006, teams that lost on the road by 50 points or more came home the next week and won five out of six times.
The Saints defense heard his concerns, stopped the Raiders offense Sunday afternoon, and had a few of their own numbers — including holding the Raiders to 17 points and limiting them to 412 yards.
“More and more guys are playing fast,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We are trusting our abilities and our teammates. When we mess up, guys are there, backing us up. And, we are playing well in the red zone.”
This was evidenced by the Saints tight defensive stand in the first half.
The Raiders took a drive from their own 16-yard line to the Saints’ 7, eating nearly 10 minutes off the clock with eight plays in the red zone.
“It’s attitude,” Jenkins said the stand. “They are not going to get into the end zone against us. Teams have to pick up and pass. We can stop the run, stop them from getting penetration and disrupt them. Then, they have to pass, and this is to our advantage.”
And, the Raiders didn’t get into the end zone this time, as Roman Harper intercepted a pass intended for Brandon Myers.
Harper led the defense with 11 tackles and Jenkins had six. Will Smith and Jabari Greer both chipped in five.
“I feel better than where we were,” Harper said. “We stuck together and knew we could achieve great things. We’re doing less thinking, learning more — things we can do within each call. We’re still hungry. There is still meat on the bone. I like that we’re making plays, staying humble.”
On the second play of the Raiders third possession of the game, Jenkins intercepted a pass from Carson Palmer and ran 55 yards for a touchdown, giving the Saints a 14-0 lead. It was his first interception in nearly two years.
“Am I back?” asked Jenkins. “Was I ever in? It’s really been a year-and-a-half, but who is counting. It was normal coverage, I sat and jumped on the route and got it.”
And back to those numbers. The 17 points were the second lowest points given up by the Saints defense this year. They gave up 13 to the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 5. And, those 412 yards bettered the 421 given up in loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 30.
“We’re making turnovers and big plays, and not allowing big plays,” Harper said. “I hate that we gave up that last touchdown on the two-minute drive. We allowed some leaky yardage, but overall I really liked our effort today.”
Coming into the game, the Saints defense was rated No. 32 overall, but with the turnaround in the last weeks (winning three in a row and the last five of six) might change that.
“It’s been a long grind, especially starting 0-4, but we never pointed fingers,” Harper said. “We stuck together as a locker room and as a team, and we knew that we could achieve great things.”
In the second half, two plays were overturned by replay that would have given the Saints defense two more takeaways — an interception by Albert Mack and a fumble recovery by Harper.
“It was a fumble,” Harper said. “It was an early Christmas gift, but they took it from me. It’s happened before. It is what it is.”