For many reasons, the 2011 Saints campaign will stand next to only the 2009 Super Bowl season as the most memorable in franchise history.
Of course, the biggest reason is because it’s the most recent one. But beyond that, New Orleans tied a franchise-record for wins with 13. It secured its third NFC South title in six seasons.
And in the memorable season, there were memorable moments. Here’s our version (and there most certainly will be opposite opinion) of the 10 most-memorable moments.
1.) Drew Brees breaks Marino's record
There might have been bigger moments, but to us, nothing was more memorable than the moment Drew Brees became the league’s most-prolific passer in its history.
The Saints broke many NFL records this season, including total offense. None were considered more Holy Grail-esque than Dan Marino’s single-season passing record and Brees was on pace to break sometime in the final game or two.
It just so happened that New Orleans’ game against Atlanta was on national television, setting the stage for glory.
That Monday night game against Atlanta meant so much – it clinched the division, it clinched a home-field game and it clinched history.
The night was building to an exhilarating finish. The Saints had the game in hand but the record was not. And then, little time left on the clock, fate struck, giving the Saints the ball back with just enough room to get Brees the record.
With 5:08 to play, the Saints took over at the Atlanta 33. Five plays later, the Saints were at the Falcons’ 9, Brees just a few yards shy of breaking Dan Marino’s single-season record of 5,084 yards.
On the next play, Brees threw to his left, hitting running back Darren Sproles for a nine-yard touchdown pass. Marino’s record was broken, the un-passable record finally passed.
And the Superdome shook.
2.) 7 ½ minutes of hell...glory...during Niners game
The game-winning touchdown the Saints gave up to 49ers tight end Vernon Davis was the most-memorable moment of the game, sure. But the final 7 ½ minutes will go down as possibly the most entertaining postseason theater in recent memory.
Four possessions. Four touchdowns. Four lead changes. Four gigantic emotional swings.
In a game in which both defenses stole the show in the first 45 minutes, it was the offensive explosion that we’ll remember.
First, quarterback Drew Brees livened Saints fans worldwide, hitting running back Darren Sproles for a 44-yard touchdown pass with 4:11 to play, giving the Saints a 24-23 lead, their first time playing ahead all day.
Then San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith ignored all naysayers, driving the 49ers 80 yards in six plays, scoring on a speedy 28-yard run around left end. Candlestick Park erupted in joy.
Unfazed, Brees struck again. This time with 1:48 to go in the game, he completed another comeback, this one seemingly a back-breaker when he hit tight end Jimmy Graham for a 66-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion to Sproles gave New Orleans a 32-29 lead with little time left.
But – and this is what everyone in black and gold will remember – Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams chose to stay aggressive and it failed. Smith hit Davis for a 47-yard pass in front of New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins and then connected with Davis again for a 14-yard touchdown strike in front of safety Roman Harper.
Candlestick rocked while Saints Nation wept.
3.) Sean Payton breaks leg
When the Saints went to Tamp Bay for their Oct. 16 game, there was little reason to believe it would be any more memorable than any other game.
The Saints had won in Tampa by large margins the previous two seasons and the Buccaneers had lost to San Francisco by 45 points a week earlier.
But boy was it memorable.
If nothing else had happened after the 10:17 mark, this moment will stand out for its sheer zaniness.
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham caught a pass from quarterback Drew Brees and was ridden out of bounds on the New Orleans sideline and into the legs of coach Sean Payton.
The coach tried to get up, but couldn’t put any pressure on his leg and went back to the ground. He remained on the bench for the rest of the first half and was taken to the locker room for X-rays at halftime.
Payton ended up tearing the meniscus in his left knee and fracturing his left tibial plateau. A day later, he was recovering from surgery.
4.) St. Louis Debacle
This wasn’t just one moment. It was 60 long minutes.
But everyone will remember the Oct. 30 St. Louis game. It set the stage for everything else that happened this season.
The Saints played their worst game of the season, recording a low of 283 total yards while giving up six sacks.
New Orleans didn’t score until a defensive touchdown with 1:21 to play in the third quarter and quarterback Drew Brees didn’t throw for a touchdown until 10 seconds remained in the game.
This moment ended up taking away the No. 2 seed and a bye in the playoffs. But it also brought the team closer together – the Saints didn’t lose again until the divisional round of the playoffs.
5.) Fourth down stop in Atlanta
Sometimes we harp on the sour moments the most; they seem to stick with us as people more than the good ones.
But when Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins and defensive linemen Sedrick Ellis and Shaun Rogers stopped Atlanta running back Michael Turner on fourth down in overtime, a good moment was etched in everyone’s minds.
New Orleans had just given up two long scoring drives to Atlanta in the fourth quarter that pushed the game into overtime.
The Falcons forced the Saints to punt on their first possession of overtime and Atlanta coach Mike Smith didn’t think his defense had another stop in it. So, he went for it on fourth-and-inches on his own 29 yard-line.
The Saints came up with the stop and New Orleanians had another victory over their bitterest of rivals Atlanta.
6.) Steve Gleason honorary captain moment
This is certainly a moment that could be higher. We wouldn’t argue that.
It’s certainly a top 10 memorable moment from this past season.
Everyone knew the story of former Saints special teamer Steve Gleason. He blocked the punt against Atlanta in the re-opening of the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. He then retired and was set to live the life of a loved star.
But no one truly knew the story. That is, until Jeff Duncan of the Times-Picayune wrote an eye-opening story of Gleason’s battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.
The day that story came out, Gleason was named the Saints honorary captain.
And when Gleason was aided onto the field by his former teammates, the din began to grow, reaching a crescendo when he raised his arm, letting it fall to begin the “Who Dat!” chant.
The Saints went on to win that game against Houston in spectacular comeback fashion. Yet, the moment of the game was all Gleason’s.
7.) Record stomping of Indy The question heading into New Orleans’ Sunday night game against Indianapolis wasn’t really if the Saints would beat the Colts.
No, more questions dealt with how the Saints would handle coach Sean Payton not being on the sideline and calling plays after having surgery to fix a torn meniscus and broken tibial plateau in his left leg.
Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. got the nod and boy did he show up with a splash.
The Saints broke franchise records in a 62-7 stomping of the Colts and scored on their first nine possessions. In the third quarter alone the Saints had the ball for all but 2 minutes, 47 seconds of the quarter.
The dome was getting crunk for nearly the entire evening and Carmichael Jr. set a path from which he would begin to get names for possible head-coaching positions because of the ease with which the Saints’ offense ran with him running the show.
8.) Comeback thwarted on goal line....Ingram's run stopped by Green Bay
With everything against the Saints – season-opener on the road against the reigning Super Bowl winners – New Orleans showed grit and determination just to stay in the game at Green Bay.
But with 1:08 to play, the Saints had the ball at their own 20 – 80 yards from a game-tying score. And under the direction of quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints got to the Green Bay 9 with 3 seconds to play.
A pass to running back Darren Sproles fell incomplete, but a penalty on the Packers’ A.J. Hawk in the end zone put the ball at the 1-yard line for an untimed down.
And in a season in which the Saints set passing records, the curtain-raiser ended on a failed run attempt. Rookie running back Mark Ingram was stuffed at the line of scrimmage when tackle eligible Charles Brown slipped and fell down and guard-tackle tandem Jahri Evans and Zach Strief didn’t get the push need to open a hole.
9.) Furious second half v. Detroit
New Orleans hadn’t trailed for seven and a half quarters when Detroit took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter of their wild-card playoff game.
The Saints hadn’t trailed at halftime since Oct. 30 at St. Louis.
In other words, being down 14-10 at the break at home in the playoff opener wasn’t familiar territory.
But New Orleans gave Saints fans a half to remember with explosive third and fourth quarters against Detroit in the wild-card game.
The Saints outscored the Lions 35-14, forced two turnovers and a punt and absolutely stole away any chance Detroit had of an upset.
Quarterback Drew Brees threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns in the second-half and the Saints exploded into the divisional round of the playoffs with momentum.
10.) Last second drive v. Carolina
In the fifth week of the season, the Saints were up against not just a fired up crowd, but exciting and dangerous rookie quarterback Cam Newton.
And sure enough, Newton led the Panthers on an 11-play, nearly five-minute drive that gave the Panthers a 27-23 lead with 12:40 to play.
The teams traded punts, setting up No. 10 memorable moment of the 2011 season.
With 7:06 to play, the Saints got the ball back on their own 11-yard line. Quarterback Drew Brees wasn’t going to be outshined by Newton on this day.
He led a 13-play, 89-yard drive that chewed up 6 minutes, 16 seconds of the clock, leaving only 50 seconds on the clock.
The Saints converted two third-downs on the drive, including a third-and-one that running back Mark Ingram gained two yards on to keep things going.
Brees was 8 of 9 for 80 yards and the game-clinching 6-yard touchdown pass to running back Pierre Thomas on the drive.