Webster’s Dictionary defines theft as, “the felonious taking and removing of personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it.” I’d say that pretty much sums up the New Orleans Saints 34-31 win over the Washington Redskins Sunday.
The Saints won a football game they had no business winning and for about 55 minutes played exactly like they had no intention of doing so. Then Drew Brees reminded the entire world he’s still a football superhero and did what he does, and suddenly, amazingly, the Saints won their eighth straight game. They straight up stole win number eight right out from under a shocked Washington.
All it took was the biggest fourth quarter rally in Saints history with Brees completing 11 straight passes on the final two drives to force overtime. How unlikely was it? The win probability math formula had Washington’s chance of winning at somewhere north of 98.9 percent. What was more likely than the Saints winning down 31-16 with less than five minutes left? Think of the most absurd apocalyptic scenario or for the sky to start raining $20 bills, and then imagine those things happening. Both were more likely than Saints being 8-2 after falling behind 31-16. 2017 is both weird and wonderful.
I wouldn’t say this Saints win was the craziest victory I’ve ever seen them get, last year’s win in San Diego still is #1 for me on the insanity scale, but this was definitely the most improbable. I’ll admit I had resigned myself to a Saints defeat and was more concerned with all the Saints injuries than the likelihood of 7-3 (more on the injuries in a bit).
The Saints needed every single one of the 536 yards the offense generated. Brees was amazing with 375 yards and the Saints passing game, while still ranked #2 in NFL, never has felt quite as lethal this year until it absolutely positively had to be on Sunday.
Who had Coby Fleener stepping up to be a fourth quarter hero with five catches for 91 yards? How unlikely was that? Fleener hadn’t caught more than two passes in any game this year since the season opener, but suddenly he was Jimmy Graham 2.0 late in the fourth quarter, and Brees was looking to him in crunch time? 2017 is weird.
I don’t really know what’s left to say about Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Ingram is on pace for 1,195 rushing yards and Kamara is on pace for 1400 yards from scrimmage. The two of them combined might crack 3,000 yards from scrimmage. By the way, the New Orleans Saints are second in the NFL in rushing yards-per-game now. 2017 is wonderful.
Kamara is the most fun Saints player to watch since Darren Sproles. Kamara never looks out of control and maybe the most impressive thing about him is he never looks like he’s going full speed. He always looks like he’s running JUST fast enough to outrun everyone, but if he needed to, Kamara could kick it into another gear. That thought makes me giggle with delight. The Saints are averaging over 30 points a game on offense and while it’s different than the unstoppable offenses of 2009 and 2011, don’t confuse different with not as good.
Washington had scored to go up 31-16 and their pass rush had been harassing Brees all day, so a two-score deficit made it seem like this game was a wrap. It wasn’t like the Saints deserved to win anyway, as Kirk Cousins had thrown for 322 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.
Around these parts Kirk, we call having a 300-yard, three touchdown, no interception game and still losing the FULL BREES. Washington had 456 yards of offense and the Saints defense looked EXACTLY like a defense missing three key starters.
When the media votes for defensive rookie of the year they ought to just play this game on a loop. I’m not saying Marshon Lattimore missing basically the entire game with an ankle injury is the sole reason the Saints defense suddenly looked like what we were used to seeing the previous three years, but I am saying the Saints are not a Super Bowl contender without him.
The Saints defense was basically a sieve right up until the moment it faced do or die with Washington leading 31-23 and needing a single yard to win the game. The Saints run defense which gave up 4.7 yards-a-carry every time Washington ran the ball turned into a brick wall.
The way the Saints defense played doesn’t concern me nearly as much as all the injuries it's sustained. The Saints 2017 defensive improvement is based on a foundation of the secondary playing tremendous. When the Saints don’t have Kenny Vaccaro and Marshon Lattimore against a top 10 quarterback like Cousins, games like Sunday are what we are going to see.
The good news is Vaccaro, Lattimore, and linebacker A.J. Klein should be back very soon. The bad news is Alex Okafor is now out for the season. He had 4.5 sacks, 37 tackles, and had been a wonderful addition. The Saints will now be depending on a bunch of young guys at defensive end, which is less than ideal. Where we’ll likely notice Okafor’s absence the most is against the run, the Saints bad run defense just got a whole lot worse.
We will leave those negative thoughts and worries for another time and let’s just bask in the unbelievable feeling this Saints team is giving us. Sunday was a miracle win but it also felt like a game where Washington left a six-inch crack in the door that only a Super Bowl contender and a Hall-of-Fame quarterback could kick in. Drew Brees and the 2017 Saints were more than qualified. 2017 is both weird and wonderful.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at Saintshappyhour@gmail.com, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes. No column later this week, happy Thanksgiving everybody.