CLUTCH LUTZ: 58 Yard FG Helps Saints Top Texans in MNF Thriller

Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Last night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the New Orleans Saints began their 2019 NFL season in a very similar fashion to how their 2018 season ended; but this time with far different results.

The Black and Gold overcame an 11-point halftime deficit and scored 27 second-half points en route to a 30-28 season-opening victory over the visiting Houston Texans, their first win to open a season in the past six years.

The way that they did so happened in one of the most thrilling and improbable finishes in the franchise’s 52-year history: the two teams exchanged the lead twice in the game’s final minute —the first time that’s ever happened in any season (49 of them since 1970) of Monday Night Football.

Kicker Wil Lutz came through in a clutch situation with the outcome of the game on the line, nailing a career-long 58-yard field goal as time expired to win it for New Orleans, who began their latest bid at trying to get to the Super Bowl following two back-to-back heart-breaking finishes in the NFL Playoffs the past two years, with a successful start.

Saints starting QB and future NFL Hall of Famer Drew Brees also had a huge hand in the victory within the game’s final half minute, as he hurried the Saints into position for Lutz’s winning kick just a half minute after Texans QB Deshaun Watson had thrown a 37-yard TD pass to Texans (and former Saints) wide receiver Kenny Stills with 37 seconds to play.

Amazingly enough (except to Who Dats), Houston was able to take an unlikely 28-27 lead on a second-chance extra point by Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn after Saints rookie safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson committed an inexplicable (and almost an unforgivable) roughing-the-kicker penalty on Fairbairn after he had actually missed the first-attempted kick for the extra point.

Prior to that last-minute unexpected Texans TD drive, the Black and Gold had just extended their lead to 27-21 following a 47-yard kick by Lutz with 50 seconds left. But the Saints defense — which had its notable share of struggles last night — failed to prevent Watson from swiftly moving the Texans down the field.

Nevertheless, New Orleans won thanks to scoring 27 total points in the second half as they overcame deficits of 14-3 and then 21-10 late in the 3rd Quarter. The remarkable 40-year old Brees was efficient for the most part, and with the lone exception of an early 1st Quarter interception (his first interception in the red zone since the 2017 season), carved up the Houston defense as he threw two touchdown passes and finished 32-for-43 for 370-yards on the night.

The come-from-behind victory over Houston last night was also the 49th time now that Bress has led a team from behind to win a game in his phenomenal 19-year NFL career.

Watson was very efficient in his own right, as the Texans signal-caller and 3rd-year star threw three touchdown passes, two of them to Houston All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. But he also threw an interception to 3rd year Saints safety Marcus Williams, which was a key momentum changer for the Saints early in the 4th Quarter, and additionally he and was sacked six times.

Despite their previously-mentioned struggles on defense which took place and occurred on more than one occasion mostly in pass coverage by the Saints secondary, it was the defensive line that eventually turned the tide in the Black and Gold’s favor midway through the final period, led by 2nd year defensive end Trey “T-Rex” Hendrickson‘s two critical sacks, that occurred on each of Houston’s final two offensive possessions.

After the game in the press conference with local reporters, Brees said he knew immediately that Lutz had nailed the game-winner right down the middle of the uprights.

“Obviously, that was a long field goal,” Brees said. “But, I think it was a good thing that we had attempted one from pretty much that same spot earlier in the game. So he had a look at it.” Brees went on to say, “The minute you heard that ball go off his foot, it was a thundering kick. I think we all knew it was going through the uprights.”

The game also had its share of controversy, which happened at the end of the 1st Half. On a 3rd-and-17 play with only :48 seconds left remaining on the game-clock, Brees threw a pass down the left sidelines to All-Pro WR Michael Thomas (who finished with a game-high 10 receptions and 123 receiving yards for the Saints), but initially he appeared to have been tackled just short of getting the first down.

Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints offensive unit then ran down the field and snapped the ball on a Brees QB “sneak” with :28 seconds left on the clock to get the 1st down, but the referees quickly blew the whistle and signaled that play dead to review Thomas’ catch.

After the entire officiating crew sorted out the call on instant replay during a rather lengthy review that drew a huge chorus of ‘boos’ from Who Dat fans (which undoubtedly for many of them brought to mind last season’s infamous  NFC Championship “No Call” in the loss to the Los Angeles Rams), the referees then ultimately ruled that Thomas had indeed gotten the 1st down.

Current and existing NFL rules normally would have given the Black and Gold the option to either choose to run 10 seconds off the clock; or they could have instead just used a timeout to stop the clock once Thomas had fallen to the the turf before going out of bounds. But the officials decided to run down the game-clock to only :26 seconds remaining left, but somehow forgot to bring the clock back to :42 seconds still to go, which would have been the correct time originally.

As a direct result of that latest NFL officiating mishap involving the Saints in the past several months, Brees and the offense eventually lost approximately 15 seconds of game time. The Saints went on to miss a 56-yard field goal by Lutz (who finished the night 3-for-4 on field goal attempts including the heart-stopping 58-yard game-winner), on the final play right before halftime.

About an hour after the game had ended, the League issued an official statement in which they basically admitted and took responsibility for their error.

The wild and crazy finish to last night’s Monday Night Football thriller now gives the Saints a (1-0) win-loss record to begin an NFL season for the first time in over half a decade, with those very same Los Angeles Rams (who also have a 1-0 win-loss record) up next for the Black and Gold as their Week #2 opponent out in Los Angeles.

“It’s great to start the season off with a win. Start in the positive,” Brees noted in the post-game press conference. “Obviously, we know the stretch of games we have coming up here. Here we are on a short week going to play the Rams in LA. Then up to Seattle and back here to (face) Dallas on Sunday night football. Kind of the gauntlet here for the 1st quarter of the season.”

“So, we know what we are up against. We know we’ve got to make improvements very, very quickly; because we need to be playing our best football.”

That game against the Rams in Los Angeles next Sunday will be nationally-televised and broadcast to a majority of the nation on FOX beginning at 3:25 p.m. Central Time, and broadcast locally in New Orleans on WVUE FOX 8.

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. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius


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