The Mercedes-Benz Superdome was rocking, literally rocking. Some 73,000 frenzied Saints worshipers were stomping up and down as Alex Anzalone reached into the highly energized air and pulled out a plum — a Jared Goff interception.
Saints linebacker Demario Davis wasn't worried.
They had good reason: It turned out to be a key moment in New Orleans’ eventual 45-35 victory Sunday over the previously unbeaten Los Angeles Rams.
Here in Subplot City, this meeting of the Saints and Rams, old Cold War-era combatants from way back in their NFC West days (uh-oh, just had a flashback to Richard Todd being intercepted by Nolan Cromwell), is likely to continue to rock this season well into the playoffs.
This one, at least for now, places a huge tiebreaker for home-field advantage in the gloved hands of Michael Thomas, who can tuck it away next to that penalty-inducing flip phone he pulled out of the goalpost padding (more on that later). It also gives the Saints a powerful espresso shot of “it ain’t bragging if you can back it up” swagger and the unofficial title of the NFL’s best team at midseason.
Before Michael Thomas caught the first of his 12 receptions or took the first step in his franchise-best 211 yards, the Saints wide receiver s…
That’s what the previously unbeaten Rams were being called, 8-0 coming in but 8-1 winging their way back home to The Coast. Meanwhile, on the other coast, 1972 Miami Dolphins will gather to toast the Saints on dusting off the last of this season’s NFL unbeatens (“You have beaten the Rams … CHAMPAGNE!”)
New Orleans (7-1) could be 8-0, too, had the Saints not allowed themselves to get dissected by Ryan-of-all-people-Fitzpatrick and the now 3-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1. But everyone except the ’72 Dolphins loses sometime in the NFL.
Were the Saints better, or was it just the Rams’ time to tumble in a hostile hornet's nest on the road? Well, as they say, history is written by the winners. And the Saints are winning and winning and winning, seven straight W’s despite facing the teeth of a defending division champion’s schedule. In their past four games that have knocked off a quartet of playoff contenders: the Redskins, Ravens (OK, maybe not the Ravens), Vikings and now the Rams.
The entire season, as Saints quarterback Drew Brees aptly said, is a gauntlet. But it is turning into a season that more and more is bending to the Saints’ skill and confidence. “We believe in ourselves,” running back Mark Ingram said. “We believe we can overcome anything. This is a great team.”
No better example of what Ingram described than the Saints’ reaction to his second-quarter fumble that gifted the Rams possession at the New Orleans 22.
It has been one of the more anticipated moments of the season.
Three plays netted just 6 yards. On fourth down, L.A. went all Georgia against LSU, blowing off a gimmie field goal for a fake run by holder Johnny Hekker that got stopped (maybe) inches short of a first down.
The Saints made the Rams pay for their gamble with a touchdown. Later in the second quarter, Anzalone’s interception set up the Saints for a 34-yard touchdown drive capped by Alvin Kamara’s 1-yard gallop into the end zone. Suddenly it was 35-14 New Orleans.
But most NFL teams aren’t daunted by big deficits. The Rams chipped away until they tied New Orleans 35-35 with 9:48 remaining on a 41-yard Goff touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp (his grandfather Jake Kupp, a member of the original 1967 Saints, watched) and a 2-point Goff-to-Gerald Everett conversion.
The Saints were teetering on the verge of a historic collapse. According to ESPN, 35 points were the most ever scored in the first half during the Brees/Sean Payton era. The Saints had never lost when Brees threw three or more first-half touchdown passes. And the Rams had lost 49 straight dating back to 2005 when trailing by 21 or more.
The Saints made it 50. After a field goal for a 38-35 lead, the Rams punted and New Orleans faced a do-or-die play on third-and-7 at their 28, the kind of play on which seasons and fortunes are decided. Brees went long for Thomas, the Rams’ one-man wrecking crew. Somehow, Thomas got well behind cornerback Marcus Peters, who flailed for the ball as Thomas sped into the end zone for a 72-yard touchdown and the final score.
Todd Gurley was the only running back in the NFL to enter Week 9 with 100 yards rushing or more per game.
“(Bleep) happens in football,” Thomas said of the play. Indeed.
It was the capper of a career day for Thomas, who set a franchise record with 211 receiving yards. Unfortunately he marred the moment by breaking out a Joe Horn-like flip phone to pretend to make a call, a surprisingly selfish move that earned a well-deserved 15-yard penalty on the Saints’ kickoff.
The Rams ran said kickoff back to their 42 but stalled at midfield. On fourth-and-2, Goff threw for former Saint Brandin Cooks, who got chopped down by P.J. Williams, the formerly maligned cornerback who had a big pick-6 against the Vikings. Cooks pounded his fists in frustration as no pass-interference flag came to the Rams’ rescue. A fourth-and-1 run for 2 yards by Kamara and a couple of victory formations from Brees and it was over.
Can't see video below? Click here.
Of course, it might not be over between the Saints and Rams this season. Something says they’ll cross paths again in the playoffs.
If they do, Sunday's result increases the chances they’ll meet in the Superdome again. The best teams get home-field advantage. Right now, that’s exactly what they Saints can say they are.
It may not have been loud enough to cause delay of game penalties a la Tiger Stadium, but by all accounts the Merceds-Benz Superdome was rocki…