Overcoming what can only be described as overwhelming adversity – a difficult situation that would make even the very bravest of men cower in fear and desperation. That’s the only way to accurately depict what the New Orleans Saints achieved on the road in Seattle, Washington.
Playing in their first game without starting QB Drew Brees under center after he suffered a torn thumb ligament injury in a loss to the Los Angeles Rams last week, the Black and Gold did what most experts thought they couldn’t do: go to one of the most difficult venues for any of the NFL’s 32 teams to play at (CenturyLink Field in Seattle) and beat the heavily-favored NFC rival Seahawks by a score of 33-27. All thanks to the leadership of back-up #2 QB Teddy Bridgewater and the stellar overall play of both the defense and special teams.
— The Blitz with Rob and Chris Podcast (@TheBlitzRandC) September 22, 2019
As a result of their surprising victory, New Orleans improved their win-loss record to (2-1) overall and regained their 1st place lead within the NFC South thanks to losses yesterday by their division rivals the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (both who are now (1-2) overall).
Not only did the Saints win in their first game without Drew Brees, the Falcons and the Buccaneers both lost today.
NFC South Standings:
1. Saints (2-1)
2. Bucs (1-2)
3. Falcons (1-2)
4. Panthers (1-2)
— Chris Rosvoglou (@RosvoglouReport) September 22, 2019
While he wasn’t spectacular by any means, Bridgewater silenced many of his biggest critics (including myself here at Big Easy Magazine) by demonstrating a much cooler and calmer demeanor than the one that he struggled with last week in Southern California.
In the constant drizzle of the rain in the scenic but dreary Pacific Northwest, the 26-year-old Bridgewater had a redemptive bounce-back performance that allowed the Saints to demonstrate their capability to win games without the future Hall of Famer Brees leading the way. Bridgewater completed 19 out of his 27 pass attempts for a grand total of 177 passing yards and compiled an above-average QB rating of 112.7.
Bridgewater threw a touchdown pass each to young superstars Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, and both the Saints defense and special teams contributed a pair of thrilling scores via a punt return and fumble return for touchdowns to help the Saints earn their first win in Seattle in 12 years (the 2007 Season). It was also the first time in 21 years that the Black and Gold scored TD’s on both (special teams and defense), since the 1998 Season.
It was Kamara who was the main “difference-maker” however, as the 3rd year RB scored TD’s both through the air and on the ground and gained 161 yards overall on a grand total of 25 touches.
— NFL (@NFL) September 22, 2019
— NFL (@NFL) September 22, 2019
But it was actually the team’s defense and special teams that ended up setting the tone of the entire contest early on.
Midway through the 1st Quarter after the defense had forced a three and out on the Seahawks’ opening offensive possession it was Saints rookie punt returner Deonte Harris who gave the Black and Gold the lead. He quickly and deftly hit an open seam in punt coverage and then broke a few tackles as he sprinted past Seattle’s defenders for an electric 53-yard score — which let everyone know they had come to not only to play but intended to leave with a victory in hand.
One move and GONE.
Deonte Harris takes the punt return 53 yards to the house! #NOvsSEA
— NFL (@NFL) September 22, 2019
In the 2nd Quarter, it was none other than often-criticized Saints CB Eli Apple who made one the game’s biggest plays of them all when he chased down Seattle #1 RB Chris Carson from behind and stripped the football from his grasp. That ball was then recovered by strong safety Vonn Bell, who scooped it up and returned it “to the house” for a rare defensive fumble return TD from 33 yards out.
A Kamara TD at the end of the 1st half made the score 20-7, and then the Black and Gold took control of the game right after the opening kickoff of the 2nd half. They marched 75 yards in 12 plays and scored on a 1-yard strike from Bridgewater to Thomas on a “quick slant” at the goal line on 3rd-down-and-goal.
The Seahawks got some late 4th Quarter scores (especially during what’s known as “garbage time”) to eventually whittle the Saints’ lead all the way down to 33-27, but they ran out of time after scoring a TD on the game’s final play.
It goes without saying: yesterday’s win was a gut-check of epic proportions, and was arguably the biggest win of the entire Sean Payton era (with the notable exception of the team’s win in Super Bowl XLIV back in 2009).
UNEQUIVOCALLY and without any doubt:
This might just be THE BIGGEST WIN of the entire Sean Payton Era — with the notable exception of Super Bowl XLIV in 2009#Saints Alive
— Barry Hirstius (@BarryHirstius) September 22, 2019
“That’s why it’s a team game,” Payton said to reporters in his post-game press conference. “I thought we had a good week of practice. There was something about the week in the locker room – even going through pregame.”
“Look, this happens at other positions. And it’s unique when it’s the quarterback, I understand that. And we approached things a little differently,” Payton said. “Shoot, at our quarterback meeting last night, Teddy changed it up [moving up one planned meeting by 90 minutes]; I texted Drew, I said, ‘We’re changing everything up now.’ And he called right away.”
"I was proud of the way he played,"
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) September 22, 2019
“And I was proud of the way [Bridgewater] played. He’s someone, if you follow his career, he’s kind of won wherever he’s been.”
Clearly Payton — along with Bridgewater and the rest of the organization for that matter — have a great reason to be extremely proud of Sunday’s performance. The Saints overcame incredible adversity coming into this contest, and not too many observers or analysts were giving them much of a chance at doing what they were able to do.
Faced with the unenviable task of having to play without their future Hall of Fame QB and at one of the hardest venues/cities in the entire NFL (Seattle), the Black and Gold stood tall and proud and repped the NOLA Community and the entire Who Dat Nation fanbase by playing an inspired brand of football that not many thought they could.
The Saints won in all three phases of the sport, and that’s a credit to the preparation of Payton and his coaching staff; and also of course, to his obvious head-coaching ability.
— Ricardo LeCompte (@RLeCompteTV) September 23, 2019
So proud of our TEAM! Who Dat baby!
— Drew Brees (@drewbrees) September 22, 2019
Bottom line: yesterday’s performance should serve notice that the Saints franchise has absolutely no intention of giving up on their season because of the injury to Brees — and they are able to overcome overwhelming adversity. If nothing else, Who Dats can breathe a sigh a relief now as they await Drew Brees’ return.
The 19-year veteran and 40-year-old Brees is expected to miss at least six games, although no specific timetable has officially been given yet. The Saints’ next game will feature a showdown with another top Super Bowl contender when they host the undefeated (3-0) Dallas Cowboys at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on NBC Sunday Night Football. The game will be televised locally in NOLA on WDSU TV Channel 6.
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