NEW ORLEANS – As the adage goes, offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.
On a day where quarterback Drew Brees continued to make more of a case for his soon-to-be Hall of Fame career with his 6,000th pass completion and his 68,000th passing yard, it was the New Orleans defense that continues to step up in the Saints’ 20-12 win over the Chicago Bears Sunday.
“I think it gets back to the confidence and gets back to the task each week,” Saints coach Sean Payton said of his defense. “They were up for the challenge. I think especially when the offense turns it over twice in the end of the game like that, they did a real good job.”
Marshon Lattimore’s interception with 1:22 remaining allowed New Orleans to celebrate their first five-game winning streak since opening the 2013 season at 5-0.
“It feels great,” Lattimore said. “We’re trying to be the best in the league. Just taking the ball away and overall defense. To get those type of stats is great. It feels great for us as a defense after the slow start we had.”
While Lattimore’s play essentially netted New Orleans the win, it was just the pinnacle of a solid performance by the unit.
In the second quarter, New Orleans came away unscathed as the unit tallied sacks on a pair of third downs – the latter which led to a 47-yard field goal miss by Bears kicker Connor Barth to keep them two possessions behind.
After giving up a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, New Orleans responded on the penultimate drive by pressuring Bears rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to throw back-to-back incomplete passes with one yard to go on third and fourth down.
“It is like flipping a coin,” Chicago coach John Fox said of not running on fourth down. “You’ve pretty much got a 50-50 (chance) right there. Obviously, it didn’t work. We didn’t execute as well as they did. They took possession of the ball. It was an option, though.”
While the Saints still surrendered a few big plays to Chicago – three of at least 45 yards, to be exact, and nearly a 25-yard touchdown reception by Zach Miller in the third quarter, which was overturned – it is quite refreshing to see the trend being reversed for a defense that has been maligned over the past few seasons for giving up more big plays than they make.
“It feels good for us to play complimentary ball on both sides,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “For years, everybody was saying how the defense is going to give up so many points. The offense is going to have to score 30 to win games, but it is not the case. We still have a lot of work to go.”
After starting 0-2 and getting torched by Minnesota and New England, it appeared that the New Orleans defense would be the same as it had been – ranking in the bottom six of the league in yards allowed and the bottom five in points allowed.
But that quickly changed.
In Week 3 against Carolina, the Saints held the Panthers to 288 yards and while forcing three turnovers and followed that up with their first shutout since 2012 in London against the Miami Dolphins.
New Orleans did not stop there after their bye week as the defense scored three touchdowns in a shootout against Detroit and befuddled Green Bay quarterback Brett Hundley in his first start last week.
“We are a team,” Lattimore said. “If we are down, they (the offense) picks us up and if they are down, we pick them up. That is just how we operate as a team. It is great that we have each other’s back like that. I love that.”
So far this season, the Saints have given up 17 points or fewer in four games. The last time they did that? 2013 – the last time they reached the playoffs and did not finish 7-9.
Time will tell if the Saints can keep this up for the rest of the season, but for now, they just might have something with their defense.