METAIRIE, La. – On Sept. 30, the New Orleans Saints were in position to steal a win at vaunted Lambeau Field.
All they had to do was get Green Bay off the field on a third-and-three after the two-minute warning, giving the ball back to an offense that could explode at any time.
Except, the defense couldn’t complete its job; Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit James Jones for an eight-yard gain on a play that would have worked either way what with defensive pass interference on Saints cornerback Jabari Greer.
Game over. Another Saints loss.
A week later, New Orleans found itself in a similar situation.
This time, the defense came through, keeping the San Diego Chargers from executing a successful two-minute drill thanks to timely penalties and a successful strip-sack by young defensive end Martez Wilson.
And now the Saints head into the bye week at 1-4 brimming with confidence.
“Sometimes that’s all it takes, you doing it and being able to accomplish it to give you the confidence you need to move on and a sense of like hey, we can get it done because we’ve done it before,” safety Roman Harper said.
A day after New Orleans held off San Diego in a 31-24 come-from-behind win at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the shine hadn’t worn off the win inside the Saints’ locker room.
After allowing 288 yards in the first half, including plays of 44, 49, 35, 32 and 21 yards, the Saints’ defense came alive in the second half.
New Orleans stopped San Diego on four straight drives to end the game, coming up with an interception it turned into a Garrett Hartley field goal, and the forced fumble and recovery by Wilson to end the game. The defense came up with five sacks, or one fewer than they had going into the game.
San Diego (3-2) finished the second half with just 136 yards, its only score of the final half coming when its offense started at the Saints’ 25-yard line after an interception of New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees.
It’s not that the Saints necessarily got more aggressive, defensive players said in the locker room Monday. It’s that what was called was working from start to finish and that they were aggressive from the outset.
“Defensively, I think last night was really our first time for a whole game having the attitude that we’re used to having,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We were chippy, we were getting after guys, we’re hitting, making plays and, especially late in the game, coming up with a big play.”
Added Harper, “You have to be aggressive in your attitude, too, the way you approach it. The way you try and get after guys and things like that. That’s a sense of aggression too. It’s not just about the play call. It’s about your attitude too when you’re trying to get there and play reckless. That’s what it’s all about.”
And the offense got its act together seemingly thanks to a roughing the passer penalty on San Diego’s Melvin Ingram that negated a pick-six by Demorrio Williams.
From that point, Brees hit nine straight passes and guided New Orleans on touchdown drives of 90 and 87 yards, both culminating with passes to receiver Marques Colston.
“When at one point we said we’ve got to work on everything, now some things are working for us,” right tackle Zach Strief said. “Now it’s specifically start working on things. If you can build enough good ones in a row, you can start see improvement. I think that’s what we’re seeing; we’re starting to see improvement.”
But while there’s confidence after what transpired Sunday night, there’s also knowledge that they’re still on the outside looking in. One postseason probability website puts the Saints’ odds at a playoff berth at less than two percent.
“In no shape or form are we happy that we have only one win right now,” interim coach Aaron Kromer said. “We have to carry this momentum over to getting another win and then another. We’re happy that we got the first win, but we’re definitely not satisfied with where we are.”
“It’s still a mountain to climb,” Jenkins echoed. “We’ve got work to do. We’ve got one win. We can’t forget how we started and where we came from and really just try to stay on track.”