Guilbeau column: Saints in Eighth Heaven

NEW ORLEANS - The New Orleans Saints' "Seventh Heaven" just became "Eighth Elysium," or "Eighth Elysian Fields," in Greek mythology, and Cloud Nine could be next.

It was that kind of mythical Sunday in the Louisiana Superdome, located not far from Elysian Fields (final resting place for Greek gods) Avenue here.

Wil Lutz kicked a 28-yard field in overtime to give New Orleans a 34-31 win over Washington for the Saints' eighth straight win, matching their longest regular season winning streak since 2011 when it advanced in the NFL playoffs to within a win of playing for their second Super Bowl in three seasons here at home.

That type of magic - either of the Greek or Yat persuasion - is all happening.

"Any time you go into overtime and win, it's amazing," Saints running back Alvin Kamara said. "But the way we just did it, there's no feeling like it."

The Saints (8-2) trailed the Redskins (4-6) by 31-16 with less than three minutes to play in regulation. No NFL team has come back from 15 down with less than three minutes to go since 2011. And that is not mythology.

New Orleans got to within 31-23 with 2:53 to go on a 3-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Drew Brees to tight end Josh Hill after a 75-yard drive in eight plays that took only three minutes and five seconds. Then the Saints' defense forced a three-and-out, which just a year ago would have been a myth, and drove 87 yards in four plays for a touchdown to get within 31-30 with 1:05 to go.

Brees hit Kamara on a short pass that he bobbled and finally caught at about the 12 and miraculously eluded four tacklers in the vicinity for an the 18-yard score. Kamara's bobble seemed to freeze the defenders. If he catches it clean, he likely would have had his clock cleaned.

"Too bad for them," Kamara said. 

The completion put Brees at 11-of-11 for 164 yards on the Saints' final two possessions of regulation. Not bad for a 38-year-old quarterback said to be "missing some throws that he used to make" for a "slight decline in his performance," according to a national writer last week.

Wrong. Brees has not been completing as many passes as usual this season only because the Saints do not need him to do so. The Saints are winning more with the run and defense this season.

Cases in point - the end of Sunday's game. Brees faked, then pitched to Kamara, who easily raced to the corner for the two-point conversion and 31-31 tie. 

Then the defense rose to the occasion again. Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins hit wide receiver Jamison Crowder for 19 yards to the Saints' 34 with 31 seconds left in regulation. But the pass rush forced Cousins into an intentional grounding on the next play for 10 yards back to the 44 with nine seconds left. Safety Vonn Bell sacked Cousins, bringing on overtime. Alvin Kamara: "There's no feeling like it" 

After losing the toss for OT, the Saints' defense forced another three-and-out punt and drove 51 yards in three plays for the winning field goal. And note this - Brees did not attempt a pass in overtime because one was not needed. Running back Mark Ingram gashed Washington at left tackle for 20 yards on first down to the 'Skins' 41. Then he popped around left end for 31 to the 10-yard line to set up the field goal. No passes needed.

Ingram led all rushers with 134 yards on 11 attempts for a whopping 12.2-yard average per carry with a 36-yard touchdown run for a 10-10 tie in the first quarter and added three catches for 21 yards. Kamara gained 42 yards n eight carries and caught six passes for 74 yards with the touchdown.

"We some DOGS," Ingram said madly after the game while seated next to Kamara.

"Savages," Kamara said.

"Nobody panicked when we were down," Ingram said. "Everybody believed."

The Redskins led 17-13 at the half and took a commanding 24-13 lead late in the third quarter with a 94-yard, touchdown drive in 12 plays and added to it with two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter for the 31-16 lead with 5:58 to go.

The Saints seemingly had the critical, 94-yard drive stopped as Washington faced a third-and-seven from the New Orleans 40 with 1:44 to go in the period. An all-out blitz nearly sacked Cousins, but he let it fly to wide receiver Ryan Grant, who was so open near the Saints' goal line he looked like he was deep for a punt. Grant made the catch with no one within 20 yards of him and danced into the end zone for the first two-score lead of the game with 1:37 to go in the third quarter.

The Saints had apparently stopped the 94-yard possession previously before it could get cracking deep in Washington territory when running back Chris Thompson was stopped for a 2-yard gain by defensive tackle Sheldon Rankings to bring up fourth-and-one. Thompson hurt his knee on the play and left the game for good. On fourth-and-one, though, from the 15, Washington faked the punt with a short snap to up back Niles Paul, a tight end who charged five yards for the first down to keep the drive alive.  

The Saints drew within 24-16 with 9:19 to play in the game on a 42-yard field goal by Lutz. But the Redskins followed with a 75-yard drive in six plays to take the 31-16 lead at 5:58 on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Cousins to tight end Jeremy Sprinkle, who was nearly as open as Grant.

Brees executed the two-minute offense skillfully just before the end of the half as he took the Saints 69 yards in 10 plays for a 29-yard field goal by Lutz as time expired to get New Orleans within, 17-13, at the break.

The Saints, who have won eight straight after an 0-2 start and play at Los Angeles next week, tied the game 3-3 on a 52-yard field goal by Lutz with 5:30 to play in the opening quarter following a 48-yard drive in 11 plays. Washington took a 3-0 lead with 11:40 to go in the first quarter after Brees set it up with an interception. 

Washington took a 10-3 lead as Cousins hit running back Chris Thompson for a 16-yard touchdown pass with 2:11 to go in the first quarter. New Orleans came right back to tie it at 10-10 as Brees found wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. for 23 yards to the Redskins' 36, and Ingram took it in from there with 35 seconds to go in the first quarter.

Washington took the lead again at 17-10 with a 75-yard drive in nine plays as running back Samaje Perine scored on a 1-yard run with 10:44 to go before halftime.

New Orleans has not won nine straight regular season games since it won the first 13 in the 2009 Super Bowl championship season, which is so many 7-9 seasons ago that it seems like mythology.

The comparisons to those magical times are all happening, though just three remain from that team - Brees, offensive tackle Zach Strief and punter Thomas Morstead.

"The sky's the limit when you have a team that does what we did today," Ingram said. 

"It's not championship win until we have a championship ring," defensive end Cam Jordan said. "But if this leads to a playoff run, or if this leads to a Super Bowl, then we'll discuss it."

Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, surely looks like and, more importantly, feels like a talking point toward that ascension.

"Did you feel the momentum? I did when we went to overtime," Jordan said. "There was momentum our way."

And it will keep coming. Brees said it best. He knows. There were days like this in 2009 and '11.

"You win game like this," he said, "and you feel like you can win anywhere, anytime and any way."

© 2017 WWL-TV


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