The New Orleans Saints will be seeking a fourth straight win this coming Monday Night when they host their visiting long-time NFC rivals the Washington Redskins at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in a nationally-televised contest on ESPN Monday Night Football.
Kickoff is at 7:15 p.m. Central time, and the game will be televised locally in the New Orleans area on Cox Cable Channel 35.
The Saints (3-1) are coming off an impressive 33-18 win on the road at New York over the Giants; while the Redskins (2-1) will be trying to win their 2nd straight contest following last week’s Bye Week, after defeating the Green Bay Packers at home by a score of 31-17.
With that in mind, here are Big Easy Magazine’s five bold predictions for this early-season conference match-up, which could potentially impact the NFC Playoff race later on this year.
And we’ll start at #5, and work our way down to #1.
Starting with this one…
#5. After a few weeks on the road, the Saints return home to a heroes welcome and strike first with their first defensive touchdown of the 2018 Season
The Saints will finally return to play inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this coming Monday Night, after back-to-back road trips to Atlanta and New York City (they went across the river and played in New Jersey, actually); and now they will get to come home and receive a hero’s welcome in front of their devoted fans, for a very good reason.
In the 52-year history of the Saints franchise, there may be no team that’s been as resilient as this year’s Saints team. They very easily could be (1-3) thanks to what notably was a rather shaky start to the season, but they’ve managed to pull out a few close games in successive weeks and now find themselves sitting at 3-1 and on top of the NFC South Division.
Which is exactly why it likely will be a wild scene on this particular Monday Night, as they return to a packed Superdome filled with fans eager to see their hometown heroes in action, along with a nationally televised audience watching from home anticipating the opportunity to watch Drew Brees break Peyton Manning’s all-time NFL passing yardage record.
The warm reception with open arms for Brees and the Saints follows their last two impressive wins away from the Superdome that were much better than the last time that they played on their home turf: a narrow 21-18 win (escape is a more appropriate term) over a very scrappy Cleveland Browns team back in Week #2.
And as if on cue, the Saints give the fans a treat; when safety Marcus Williams intercepts a pass intended for Redskins #1 offensive weapon and All-Pro tight end Jordan Reed from quarterback Alex Smith (more on him in a minute). He then takes it to the house for a pick-six, giving New Orleans the early 7-0 lead on the game’s opening drive.
It’s also the Saints first defensive score of the season — after their near miss against the Giants just last week.
#4. Saints running back Mark Ingram finally gets to make his season debut and also scores a touchdown in a solid performance
After serving a four-game suspension due to his using a banned performance-enhancing substance in the offseason, Saints eight year running back Mark Ingram makes his long-anticipated return to the Saints starting line-up and makes an immediate impact while sharing starting running back duties with 2nd year superstar Alvin Kamara.
Washington has one of the toughest young and talented defensive Front 7’s in the entire NFL; but if Washington has shown a weakness so far, it’s in their run defense — where the Redskins have allowed teams to pick up an average of 4.5 yards per carry, 23rd in the NFL.
Ingram is given eight carries in just the first two drives to open the game Saints head coach Sean Payton, as he attempts to get the former University of Alabama star back into the flow of the Saints offense.
All told: Ingram powers his way over and around the Redskins defenders for 19 carries for 122 yards; along with another 52 receiving yards on five receptions out of the backfield, in what can only be described as a sensational “hey I’m back” performance.
Among those 5 grabs: a seven-yard touchdown pass that Ingram catches in the end zone against Redskins cornerback Josh Norman, whom he manages to out-wrestle the ball from in the end zone and score the touchdown for an early second quarter Saints 14-7 lead.
Welcome back, Mark.
#3. Having lost a few close games previously against him in the past, the Saints defense stifles Redskins Quarterback Alex Smith and sacks him four times
— ProFootballReference (@pfref) September 26, 2018
One thing different in this year’s match-up between New Orleans and Washington is that the Redskins have changed starting quarterback’s, with 14-year veteran quarterback Alex Smith taking over the reins from Kirk Cousins, who now is the Vikings starting quarterback in Minnesota.
Smith has had some major success against the Saints in the past, including New Orleans’ unforgettable last-second loss in the 2011 NFC Divisional Playoffs when Smith was the starter with San Francisco and beat them on the game’s final play.
Smith has made a smooth transition to running the Redskins offense since leaving Kansas City in free agency and moving to the nation’s capital — where he has completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 767 yards and four touchdowns with only one interception in 96 attempts.
A big key for Smith’s early success for the Redskins has been making quick, decisive reads and staying aggressive. Given the additional caveat of Smith’s past success against New Orleans, it wouldn’t be all that much of a surprise to imagine Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen trying to blitz Smith early and very often in Monday Night’s contest.
The Saints will do just that — as they stifle Smith, who they limit to a 17 for 31 performance and 223 passing yards, with two touchdown passes (both to tight end Jordan Reed) and the previously-mentioned pick-six by Marcus Williams.
Additionally, the Saints defensive line generates eight quarterback pressures, five quarterback hits, and four total sacks on Smith, in what is easily the defensive line’s best performance of the young 2018 season.
#2. Redskins running back Adrian Peterson gets “stuffed” by the Saints Front Seven and the NFL’s top-rated run defense
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) October 2, 2018
Most Saints fans are well aware that Redskins running back Adrian Peterson signed a two-year deal with the Saints last Spring in May of 2017 after the former League MVP wasn’t re-signed by the Minnesota Vikings, the team that originally drafted him in 2007.
He ended up playing just four games and posting a 3.0 yards-per-carry average before being traded to the Arizona Cardinals for a conditional sixth-round pick (which the Saints used to select 6th Round pick Boston Scott).
Peterson said Monday that there’s no bad blood between him and the Saints or head coach Sean Payton and that he’s eager to reconnect with friends on the team.
Peterson has gotten a new lease on life with Washington and has become part of a devastating one-two punch at running back along with big-time playmaker Chris Thompson. Peterson has averaged 108 yards in Washington’s two wins so far.
However, Peterson has also been shut down once already this season (Indianapolis held him to just 20 yards in Week #2); and in this contest, he’ll get summarily stuffed by a Saints run defense that is currently the #1 rated run defense in the entire NFL in yards per carry, yielding only 3.2 yards per rush.
Peterson will get right under that mark, with 27 rushing yards on nine carries, but not before he leaves the field after the game with a big warm hug and a friendly handshake from Payton.
#1. Despite being able to successfully break the NFL passing yardage record, Drew Brees and the Saints are only leading by four points early in the fourth quarter — when suddenly…
…when suddenly Brees — who breaks the all-time NFL passing yardage record midway through the 3rd quarter — commits his first turnover of the entire regular season so far, when he takes a blindside hit just as he is throwing the ball by Redskins defensive end Matt Ioannidis.
As a result, Brees’ pass flutters high up into the air before it is then tipped by Redskins safety DJ Swearinger, right into the waiting hands of cornerback Quinton Dunbar; whose resulting big play sets up the Redskins offense in great field position inside the Saints red zone.
For the Redskins defense, it’s another big play for a Washington unit currently ranked as the third best defense in the entire NFL through the first four (and now five) weeks of the season.
On the very next play, Redskins QB Alex Smith hits speedy wide receiver Paul Richardson on a slant route; and he shakes off a couple of feeble tackle attempts by Saints cornerback PJ Williams and safety Kurt Coleman before scampering into the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown reception, and a 31-27 Redskins lead.
New Orleans gets the ball back with a little less than 5 minutes remaining, but finds itself in yet another close game near the end and needing a touchdown to take the lead and hopefully win the game. Brees and the Saints offense then go on a methodical 75-yard drive that takes up nearly all of the remaining time on the game clock.
A Brees 13-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas with 1:22 remaining puts the Saints ahead 35-31; but the Redskins still have one last chance to get a mild upset win over a favored Saints team, by scoring a touchdown of their own.
But on a 2nd-down-and-short (and only a few inches to go for a 1st down) near midfield, Smith looks to fool everyone with play action-pass and tries to sneak a pass attempt over the middle to tight end Vernon Davis; who makes the catch but then is immediately hit by Saints 3rd year safety Vonn Bell — and coughs up the football.
Veteran Saints linebacker Demario Davis then very quickly pounces on the loose football for the fumble recovery, and seals the win for New Orleans; as the team leaves the field having won yet another “thriller” along with a key NFC conference victory as well as their 4th straight win, to remain in 1st place in the NFC South Division….
FINAL SCORE: Saints 35, Redskins 31
Editor’s Note: If you enjoy Barry’s writing, be sure to check out his detailed story on the how the Saints and their fans are tackling the controversial NFL-National Anthem issue, featuring his interview with Saints linebacker Demario Davis! Don’t forget to also check out our series on things to do in New Orleans!