Wake-Up Call: Big Play on Special Teams Sparks Saints to Comeback Win and 2nd Straight Division Title

After going over an entire game and a half’s worth of action without looking anything like the offense that led the team to 10 consecutive victories, the New Orleans Saints were in desperate need of some type of spark in their match-up versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers yesterday.

The Black and Gold got that spark and a whole lot more while trailing 14-3 with approximately 7:18 remaining in the 3rd quarter.

That was the exact moment when special teams ace, jack-of-all-trades, and 3rd string quarterback Taysom Hill broke through the Bucs’ line and smothered the punt-attempt effort of Tampa punter Bryan Anger. It goes without saying that Hill’s big special teams play suddenly provided the proverbial “wake-up call” that New Orleans needed, and then some.

The Saints recovered the blocked punt at the Tampa Bay 30-yard line and quickly scored from there on a 1-yard toss from QB Drew Brees to fullback Zach Line to trim the Buccaneers’ lead to 14-9. And then, when RB Alvin Kamara sprinted into the left-hand corner of the end zone for the two-point conversion to cut the lead down to 14-11, it suddenly became evident: 

The Saints, after struggling for what seemed like an eternity in the past week and a half, had gotten their mojo back.

As a result, the Saints went on to score a total of 25 unanswered points in the second half, as they rallied to defeat the Bucs 28-14 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, FL.

The win was the 11th of the season for New Orleans, and it gave them their second consecutive NFC South Division Championship; the first time that feat has been accomplished in the franchise’s entire 52-year history.


Additionally, the win and accompanying division crown now assures the Black and Gold of getting to host a playoff game sometime next month at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, though the opponent and date are still yet to be determined.

As of this moment: (11-2) New Orleans leads the Los Angeles Rams (11-2) in the hotly-contested race for the #1 seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the NFL Playoffs, by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker that the Saints now have over L.A. — thanks to the 45-35 win over them at the Superdome, back in Week #9.
The Rams lost for only the 2nd time this season last night, as they were defeated by a score of 15-6 by the (9-4) Chicago Bears on NBC Sunday Night Football. The win allowed Chicago to remain as the #3 Playoff seed in the NFC, behind the Saints and the Rams.

For now, New Orleans can take comfort in the fact that, while it took Hill’s game-altering play to finally get the offense back on track, the defense continues to play “lights out” football; a sure sign that the Saints may be the team that nobody will want to face in the post-season, assuming that the offense is indeed once again firing on all cylinders.


After the Hill punt-block and subsequent touchdown pass by Brees, it was the Saints’ defense that took over the game from then on, with sacks by linebacker A.J. Klein and All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan that forced Tampa to punt; which eventually gave New Orleans good field position at their own 49-yard line.

The Saints immediately got right back to work and drove the ball all the way down to near the goal-line, where Brees then capped off the impressive scoring drive with a 1-yard dive over the top for the go-ahead score with 11:46 left to play and an 18-14 New Orleans lead.

After the defense forced another Tampa Bay punt, New Orleans then figuratively put the game on ice when 8th-year veteran RB Mark Ingram bull-dozed his way over several Buccaneers defenders for a 17-yard touchdown run with 7:26 to play. The score was the 49th rushing touchdown of Ingram’s career with the Saints, which now ties him for first place in franchise history with former Saints RB (and team living legend) Deuce McAllister.

From there, Saints kicker Wil Lutz added a 36-yard field goal with 1:12 to play to make the score 28-14; and 2nd year CB Marshon Lattimore’s interception on the game’s final play ensured the New Orleans defense of recording a 2nd half shut-out for a 2nd straight game.

Perhaps even more impressive: the defensive effort by the Saints in the last month now means that the Saints have held opponents to 17 points or fewer in five consecutive games (wins over Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Tampa; along with the loss last week against Dallas). It’s the first time that’s happened for any Saints defense since the first year of the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Era, back during the 2006 season (November 26th to December 24, 2006).

Nevertheless, it was the Saints offense that was in need of raising its performance to another level. It took the wake-up call from Hill’s monumental play to put the Saints back on the path to achieving what is their ultimate goal: Super Bowl LIII (53) in Atlanta.

Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Now the Black and Gold will turn their focus towards the remaining three games of the Regular Season, and their efforts to remain ahead of the Rams.

At the moment, the Rams might still hold a slight advantage for the top Playoff seed because of a more favorable schedule in their final three games. The Rams host (6-7) Philadelphia at home next week, and then finish with games against Arizona and San Francisco.

Meanwhile, the third of three straight road games for New Orleans concludes a week from tomorrow night (Monday, December 17th) in Charlotte, North Carolina against the (6-7) Panthers, who have now lost their last five games in a row. The Black and Gold will then end the season with home games against Pittsburgh and Carolina again in the season finale. The Saints will then more than likely have a Bye Week to get themselves refreshed and well-prepared for the NFL Playoffs and what they hope will be a memorable post-season run.

Hopefully, they won’t be in the need of any more wake-up calls to pull it off.

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. You can view the rest of his Saints coverage and several feature articles here.

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