Down But Not Out in Detroit, Saints Showed Everyone They “Ain’t Dead Yet”

Photo Credit: Junfu Han

You’ll have to cut some slack to the many hundreds-of-thousands of Who Dat fans across the nation — most of them that all simultaneously turned off their TV sets in complete and total disgust — following the New Orleans Saints‘ horrific start early in their eventual 35-29 victory yesterday afternoon over the Lions on the road at Ford Field in downtown Detroit, Michigan.

That’s because those very same Saints fans were all upset after watching the Black and Gold get off to a terribly-bad beginning, as they quickly fell behind by a score of 14-0 and appeared headed for what would have been a 3rd straight loss. But instead, the Saints showed everyone that they “ain’t dead yet”; and gave what was their best performance of the season so far as they reminded the NFL why they’re still a Playoff contender seeking another shot at getting to the Super Bowl.

Now granted: yesterday’s narrow victory wasn’t a proverbial ‘thing of beauty’ by any means, and New Orleans clearly still has a variety of lingering issues that need to be “cleaned up” and corrected as they move forward with an even (2-2) win-loss record.

The main one of those issues which particularly resides on the defensive side of the football, where the unit continues to struggle with pass coverage and attempting to remain disciplined; by limiting the amount of penalties for defensive holding, illegal contact, and (at-times blatant) pass interference.

But that notable (and rather-glaring) concern aside, the Saints definitely resembled and looked much more like the team that many observers and analysts that cover the League on a daily basis, believed would be one of the very best teams in Pro Football this year; especially in a season filled with an uncertain future due to the ongoing coronavirus / COVID-19 health crisis.

But it sure didn’t seem that way at first, just minutes after the opening kickoff.

Detroit began the game on offense and immediately attacked the Saints gun-shy defensive unit, as they put together an impressive 77-yard scoring drive to open up an early 7-0 advantage.

Then the Saints offense contributed to the team’s early woes when Drew Brees was intercepted on his very first pass attempt on a tipped ball that was grabbed out of the air by Detroit linebacker Darryl Roberts, which gave the Lions and their QB Matthew Stafford a short field which they then used to further frustrate the Black and Gold by scoring yet once again to jump ahead by 14 points.

It was at that point that New Orleans appeared to be headed for another disappointing loss, one which would threaten to potentially ruin the rest of their entire season — and render them as a team that’s not truly worthy of being considered a Playoff team this year — in spite of the overwhelming amount of talent on their roster.

But then with their backs appearing to be completely against the wall, the Saints dug deep and found the resolve and determination that was necessary in that moment, a moment that later on down the line could be seen as a possible (but critically-important) turning-point to their entire season.

That moment was when one of the most least-likely heroes for the Saints — back-up cornerback Patrick Robinson — reached up high in the air and intercepted a pass thrown by Stafford, that was intended for starting Detroit tight end TJ Hockenson in the end-zone.

Up until that point, it had seemed that New Orleans wouldn’t be able to continually match Detroit score-for-score because of their inability to get a stop on defense and force a punt.

The Saints would then go on to score touchdowns on their next three straight possessions, as they began to completely dominate the line of scrimmage while tallying a grand total of 35 consecutive (and unanswered) points; to take over momentum and eventually full control of the contest that at least for the time being, presumably puts the Black and Gold back into the conversation of Super Bowl contention at the end of the year.

Credit the Lions for not giving up and nearly pulling off a miraculous comeback during the last few minutes at the end of the game, but the Saints were able to finally run out the rest of the clock after converting a key 3rd Down on the play right after the final 2-Minute Warning.

That occurred when Brees on a 3rd-and-5 play from his own 27 yard-line, threw a perfectly-thrown pass into tight Lions defensive pass coverage for a 19-yard completion to WR Tre’Quan Smith.

It was those very type of plays that the offense were able to make following that rather unenviable start, that were the difference in getting back to (2-2) and not facing a (1-3) hole that would have had many Who Dats ready to give up on watching the rest of the Saints 2020 Season after just one month into it.

While the Saints defense did actually manage to still play its best since the season-opening win against the Buccaneers, it very obviously is  the Saints offense that this morning so richly deserves the accolades for helping them to get things slowly sorted out in the heat of the moment yesterday and trending back in the right direction.

Brees looked a lot more like the future Hall-of-Famer and “living legend” that most Saints fans are used to seeing from week-to-week, and not the player who at times over the course of the first few games in the past few weeks; has looked old and ready to retire as he nears his 42nd birthday in mid-January.

While he didn’t sling the ball 50-plus yards, Brees did look sharp  and was able to slice and dice the Lions secondary on a few select occasions, for big gains that went for 15-to-20 yards down the field and which ultimately led to New Orleans establishing the power running game by RB’s Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray.

The additional element of essentially being able to run it down the collective throats of the Lions defensive Front 7 became the impetus and clear-cut winning formula for head coach Sean Payton, who masterfully called his best game of the season as well from the sidelines as the Saints offense rushed for 164 total yards on 42 carries.

When you add Kamara’s receiving yardage, he and Murray accounted for a combined 202 total yards from scrimmage and 3 rushing TD’s.

Detroit’s defense simply was unable to stop them for the majority of the contest, until starting offensive right tackle Ryan Ramczyk left the game due to a concussion midway through the 4th Quarter, which coincidentally was when the Lions began to make their near comeback at the end of the game.

Yet equally impressive however was the Saints receiving game — which was led by #2 WR Emmanuel Sanders and the previously-mentioned #3 WR Tre’Quan Smith in the absence of #1 All-Pro WR Michael Thomas — as they combined their respective efforts to compensate for the massive hole that’s been a big part of the reason why the offense has looked totally ‘out of sync’ in recent weeks.

Sanders and Smith contributed a total of 10 catches for 147 yards and 2 receiving TD’s, both by Smith. Sanders individually led all Saints WR’s with 8 catches for 93 yards, in what was easily his best game so far wearing the Black and Gold.

But undoubtedly and without little argument, the biggest and most critically important takeaway from yesterday’s victory was the amount of adversity that the Saints faced early on but were still able to overcome, not only during the game but actually well beforehand.

Photo Credit: New Orleans Saints on (Original Credit via Michael C, Hebert)

Previous rumors of the Saints’ alleged sudden death and disappearance from NFL Playoff (and possible Super Bowl) contention, as of this morning would seem to have been greatly exaggerated — even though their sub-par and at-times embarrassing performances in their past two losses prior to yesterday — would have suggested quite the opposite.

The Black and Gold almost ended up not even playing yesterday afternoon, after a test returned with a positive result for COVID-19 on fullback Michael Burton; which had led to some trepidation and tense moments for the entire franchise shortly after the team plane transporting the players and staff, landed in Detroit late Saturday evening.

That led to the entire team being kept awake into the wee hours of the night as they all were re-tested, but fortunately for the Saints Burton’s first test result revealed a “false positive” diagnosis; and ultimately the League decided the game would still be played as it had been scheduled originally.

As it was, the Saints were playing short-handed as a total of 6 key veteran starters — Thomas, tight end Jared Cook, starting left guard Andrus Peat, defensive end Marcus Davenport, and both starting cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins — were all held out due to injuries.

But the Saints were still able to dig down deep and come up with what was their best performance of this entire year thus far, when it would have been very easy for them to essentially write off the entire remainder of the season and chalk it all up to a lack of full preparation as an unintended consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Quite simply. they were able to persevere at a critical time when many people, including all of those hundreds-of-thousands of pissed-off Who Dats watching on from home, were ready to proverbially “wave the white flag of surrender” on the remainder of the 2020 Season themselves.

“I’m proud of how we got ready to play despite some of the challenges,” a visibly-relieved Payton said to the media via teleconference after the game had concluded.

“It’s just one of those games you’re proud of your team, It’s [the nature of] this game — it’ll test you from an adversity standpoint. And I think this year is gonna be that way for a lot of us.”

“New England’s gonna have to travel tomorrow, play a game tomorrow night. And quite honestly, no one really cares. And I mean that in a good way — there’s far more other things that are important that we’re suffering from than to hear about, ‘We were up ’til 1.’ That’s just the way it is this season. And so we have to understand that and then still be ready to play our best game.”

And Payton had them ready, although there were many folks who were more than ready to throw in the towel after that horrific start to the day’s unforgettable events, early in the 1st Quarter.

That said, it was Brees who gave reporters the observation in his comments to the media afterwards, that many felt perfectly summed yesterday’s victory and all of the details that followed along with it, in a nutshell.

“Yeah, there was a lot going on,” Brees said. “But I think it just says a lot about this team, about all the guys that stepped up and filled those voids. And everybody just persevered and found a way to get a big win today.”

Yesterday in Detroit, Michigan, the New Orleans Saints finally discovered who they are this season.

They were able to succeed when it mattered the most — and demonstrated the level of resolve, determination, and competitive fire — that many believed they were capable of.

And if nothing else: they showed everyone that they “ain’t dead yet”…..

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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