As a fan I always find the most emotionally exhausting New Orleans Saints games not the ones where the game is wild and seesaws back and forth all day but rather the ones where at a certain moment I've mentally relaxed and a Saints victory seems assured and then things start to go wrong - oh so very wrong. The Saints 31-26 wildcard win over the Carolina Panthers was so emotionally exhausting during the final five minutes after it was over I needed a cigarette, drink, and a hug.
The Saints went from up 31-19 and seemingly in complete control and about to cruise to a divisional round game in Minnesota to scrambling to avoid perhaps the worst home playoff lose in Saints history.
Life comes at you fast.
The Saints may have taken a sledge hammer to the tired sports cliché, 'It's hard to beat a team three times in one year' but they showed it's incredibly difficult to beat a team three times the exact same way.
In a season where the big stories were about the Saints offense relying less on Drew Brees and more on a power running game featuring Alvin Kamara and Ingram, Sunday was about Drew Brees reminding everyone he's still amazing at 38 years old. The Saints needed every single one of his 376 yards passing to keep this magical season alive.
Who had Ted Ginn Jr, Josh Hill, and Brandon Coleman catching 11 passes for 208 yards and two scores? Brees turned in probably a top five performance of his Saints career if you remember this is the weakest receiving corps he's had since 2006. Remarkable. I'd like to nominate Ted Ginn Jr. and Josh Hill for the 'Unlikeliest Saints Playoff Heroes Hall of Fame.' Guys like Brian Milne, Willie Jackson, and Robert Wilson are founding members.
Brees remained undefeated in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the playoffs as a Saint and after the first two drives of the game, was as good as he's ever been. The 46-yard throw to Michael Thomas to set up the Saints final touchdown was incredible. When you remember Brees is 38 years old it becomes damn near magical.
Brees was forced to roll hard to his right from the Carolina rush and hit Michael Thomas with a perfect throw. Tom Brady is the most accomplished quarterback ever, but I guarantee at 40 he's not making that throw. Brees is still athletic as ever and if I was his agent when I was negotiating with Saints GM Mickey Loomis I'd just play that play on a loop for 10 minutes and say, “Drew wants his money.” And walk out.
On a weekend filled with mostly underwhelming quarterback play, Brees showed us again why through the ups and downs and 7-9 seasons with no defense. We always believed the Saints still had a shot every game because they had Drew Brees and nobody else did.
Brees' performance was one of his truly great games as a Saint when you consider Carolina did everything to stop the Saints running game short of hanging a neon sign 'No Running Inside Today.' It made me wish I decided to pay for a ridiculously priced late plane ticket to see it in person.
Brees was so good I didn't even mind Sean Payton going for it on fourth down late to win the game. Would I have punted and forced Carolina to go 90 yards with no timeouts? Probably, but that's not how Sean Payton and Drew Brees operate. They live to be aggressive. They go for the win even if it's a bit reckless. The Saints under Sean Payton are going to live or die going 100 miles an hour and in big spots aren't likely to play it conventional. We can't lionize the onside kick in the 2009 Super Bowl but then demand Sean Payton do things like everyone else in another pressure-filled situation.
The good news for Sean Payton and Drew Brees is a defense that made just enough plays all day made just a few more late. Say this for the Saints - they didn't play scared on offense or defense with the game at stake. After Payton rolled the dice on fourth down, defensive coordinator Dennis Allen dialed up the pressure in the biggest moment of 2017 for the Saints defense. On two of Carolina's final three plays the Saints dialed up the heat and forced Cam Newton into an intentional grounding and then Vonn Bell sacked Newton on a blitz to seal the win. In every big playoff moment since 2006, the Saints have either succeeded or failed attacking for the win. Sunday was no different.
The 2017 Saints season is now officially an unqualified success. They won a division title and their home playoff game, anything more from here is lagniappe. In true 2017 Saints fashion they suffered more injuries in victory and the offensive line might potentially be a mess heading to Minnesota without Andrus Peat and possibly Senio Kelemete.
We'll worry about that later this week, but for now let's bask in having Drew Brees quarterback our favorite team, and that we get at least one more week to enjoy this fantastic unexpected ride that is the 2017 Saints.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.