NEW ORLEANS — There was no grand speech. No giant gesture. Nothing to signify that times and effort needed to change.
Saints first-year defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo did none of that.
Instead, safety Roman Harper said the coach delivered a simple Spagnuolo-ian message – “Nobody ever wants to mess up but it’s not a perfect game by perfect people.”
Monday night, Spagnuolo’s unit was far from perfect.
But in the end, it was perfect enough and cobbled together its best performance yet this season.
And because of it, the Saints beat Philadelphia 28-13, keeping alive hope that there might just be light at the end of this long, dark, harrowing tunnel.
“It felt right as a defense,” linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “Getting sacks. Getting turnovers. Forcing fumbles. Getting pressure on the quarterback. I really don’t care about giving up yards. I care about giving up points and not allowing the big play. That’s what we did today. We actually executed. And when we execute, we’re pretty good.”
The negatives, for once, didn’t outweigh the positives.
The Saints became the first team in NFL history to allow eight consecutive opponents to gain more than 400 yards of total offense (Philadelphia gained 447 yards) and are still on pace to obliterate the NFL record for most yards given up in a season.
Philadelphia had four plays of 20-plus yards, including a 77-yard touchdown strike from Michael Vick to DeSean Jackson, and now the Saints have given up 46 plays of more than 20 yards this season.
New Orleans allowed four drives of 40-plus yards and four series with at least 10 plays.
Yet, those numbers don’t matter as long as the defense produces in other ways.
Using a high-octane, high-pressure defensive style early, the Saints finished with seven sacks and two turnovers, including a 99-yard interception return by cornerback Patrick Robinson.
The Saints might have allowed Philadelphia to sniff the red zone and the end zone throughout the night, but they also didn’t allow the Eagles to do anything once there. Philadelphia was 0-for-5 in the red zone and 0-for-4 in goal-to-go efficiency.
In fact, New Orleans scored more points on plays inside its own red zone (7) than did Philadelphia (6).
It’s precisely what the Saints needed to happen.
“Total yards – those are stats,” Saints acting head coach Joe Vitt said. “When we won the Super Bowl, we were (25th) in the league in total defense. We forced turnovers, gave good field position to the offense. Stats are what they are.”
Monday night felt different from the rest of this season. Indeed, it felt like a throwback game to the past few seasons.
“Tonight felt more of what we’re accustomed to, what we’re used to,” linebacker Scott Shanle said. “Now the challenge for us is to not just do it one time. We’ve got to put back-to-back games together like this.”
That’s the key.
New Orleans has had good stretches this season. But it hasn’t been able to carry those stretches over to the next drive, the next quarter or the next game.
So, how can Monday turn into a months-long stretch of goodness?
“Don’t let this think that we done got it all figured out,” Harper said. “We’ve got to continue to work every day, have another great week of practice and prepare mentally, physically and emotionally to go out here and win us another game.”
This week, above all others, that shouldn’t be a problem, not with the division-leading and undefeated Falcons coming to town.
“There’s a lot of work that went into this game plan and players went out and executed,” Lofton said. “To say we’ve arrived? No we have not arrived. We’re far from that. We took a giant step in where we need to go. We just need to build off this and keep pushing.”
As the players and coaches like to say, one day and one week at a time.
Monday night was a good start.