Thieves in the Night: Saints “Steal” Their Way to 6th Straight Win at Minnesota, 30-20


Alvin Kamara photo
Photo courtesy of Alvin Kamara

In the Bible, the parable of the “thief in the night” makes this much clear: if the owner of a house knew in advance that a thief was going to come in the middle of the night, then he would try to stay awake and catch him.

Unfortunately for Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, the owner of the house against the Saints last night on Sunday Night Football at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis fell sound asleep and got all of his stuff stolen.

The proverbial “thief in the night” in this instance was 4th-year cornerback PJ Williams, whose two huge individual plays of the game included an unlikely pick six in the 3rd quarter that helped propel New Orleans (now 6-1 overall) to its sixth straight victory. They now remain a game ahead of NFC South Division rival Carolina (5-2) in the standings.

Williams had been getting picked on by Cousins and the outstanding Vikings’ wide receiver corps throughout the entire game up to that point. That’s when he forced a momentum-changing fumble against Vikings’ top play-maker Adam Thielen inside the 10-yard line that was recovered and returned 54 yards by fellow Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore to the Minnesota 18-yard line.

That turnover occurred with the Vikings leading by a score of 13-10 and threatening to make it 20-10. But instead, Williams’ big hit and Lattimore’s fumble return set up a single yard touchdown run by running back Alvin Kamara to give New Orleans a 17-13 lead right before halftime.

Williams then followed up his big play from the previous half by dealing a near-fatal blow to Minnesota only a few minutes into the 3rd quarter. He stepped in front of a Cousins pass that was originally intended for Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (who inexplicably had stopped running his assigned route) and returned the interception 45 yards for a touchdown. That gave the Saints a 27-13 lead and essentially “put the game on ice” for the Black and Gold.

Both of those plays came after Thielen and Diggs each got a chance to burn Williams in pass coverage, as the starting Saints slot cornerback gave up three catches (which included a touchdown to Thielen) and had an illegal contact penalty halfway through the 1st quarter alone.

Williams told reporters in the locker room afterward that, “he played as bad as he could’ve played.” Bad that is, until it was time for a little redemption.

“It was a little relief, definitely, after giving up a few plays, but I felt great,” Williams said of the play that allowed New Orleans to steal their way to a gratifying 30-20 victory. They’ve finally exorcised the demons from last year’s heart-breaking loss in the playoffs that took place at the same stadium just nine months ago.

Williams’ ability to overcome his early struggles by bouncing back and making big plays in critical moments was a key reason for the victory, and Saints head coach Sean Payton was one who certainly noticed.

“It’s hard to play back there and come back and play with the same confidence even after a big play might be given up,” Payton said to reporters in his post-game press conference. “Man, you don’t know when you’re going to have that opportunity like P.J. had (on the interception).”

Perhaps more importantly: it gave the much-maligned Saints secondary an opportunity to show everyone that they can play just well enough in the most critical of moments to keep New Orleans among the NFL’s truly elite teams. They remain in contention for Super Bowl LIII, which will be played February 3rd in Atlanta.

Let’s face it: not too many people would have ever believed that the same Saints defense that got torched for over 500 yards of offense in the season-opening loss at home to Tampa Bay would lead the team to its 6th straight win just a few weeks later.

Somebody likely would have even told you that you were completely out of your mind and going insane. And certainly on a night when Drew Brees threw for less than 200 yards (120) and even threw his first interception of the season. Surely, you’d expect that the Saints would have gotten their butts kicked in that type of scenario.

But Williams’ two big plays and a pass rush that grew more intense as the game wore on, were the eventual difference-makers in this contest. Cam Jordan had his usual All-Pro performance, and fellow defensive linemen Sheldon Rankins and Marcus Davenport each finished the game with two sacks and provided an innumerable amount of pressure on Cousins.

 

And newly-acquired cornerback Eli Apple managed to hold his own despite being picked on himself early in the game. Not bad for someone whom the team just got in a trade from the New York Giants earlier this week.

But just six more days from now the Saints defense will receive the ultimate test — when the NFL’s only undefeated and undisputed #1 team, the (8-0) Los Angeles Rams — visit the Mercedes Benz-Superdome in a game that will be one of the biggest showdowns of the 2018 regular season.

How the Saints defense fares against the complex and diverse Rams offensive schemes employed by L.A. head coach Sean McVay, how they try to stop quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley, and the Rams’ dynamic wide receiver corps (yes, more dynamic than Minnesota’s), should reveal quite a lot about just where New Orleans really stands in the proverbial “bigger picture.”

Stop/beat the Rams, and New Orleans will be considered the NFC favorite to make it to the Super Bowl. But if they lose, then it’s back to fighting tooth and nail to keep pace with the rest of the conference, as well as within the division. They’ll have to earn and practically claw their way to another post-season appearance in the process.

But for now, the Saints can bask in the glow of sweet victory, and take solace and comfort in the fact that this young team and its ageless wonder of a quarterback, are getting better and better each week.

And every so often, they’re capable of “stealing” a win when they need to — just like a “thief in the night.”

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