With five total touchdowns and an overtime victory over Atlanta, Drew Brees took over Week 3 and saved the New Orleans Saints’ season.
We all knew the NFC South was going to be devastating this year. It’s an annual tradition like no other, with the division always threatening to send three teams to the postseason. So in the Saints’ first opportunity to gain the upper hand on the Falcons, it’s no surprise the best player on the field rose to the occasion.
Drew Brees is a legend. This third act of his career, buoyed by an athletic defense and two stellar running backs in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, has been breathtaking to watch, proving Brees and coach Sean Payton’s innovativeness and longevity as new blood born around the time Brees was a college freshman score headlines elsewhere.
Twice a year, Brees does battle with Matt Ryan and Atlanta in some of the most exhilarating and high-scoring games played anywhere all season. It was a blocked punt that launched this era in New Orleans, and 12 years later, a blocked punt that tilted the tide of the game in the Saints’ favor and may come to represent a turning point in their season.
With 8:37 left in the third quarter, linebacker Alex Okafor got his hand on a Matt Bosher punt deep in Falcons’ territory, and the Saints recovered at the 16 yard line. Five plays later, Brees’ touchdown pass to Cameron Meredith gave New Orleans their first lead of the half.
Brees was responsible for all five touchdowns in New Orleans’ huge win in Atlanta, and broke Brett Favre’s NFL record for most career completions. He was a freak.
And throughout the rest of the second half and overtime of what became a Saints 43-37 victory, Brees was nearly perfect. It was his patience over a four-minute drive at the end of regulation that sent the match into extra time. His 47 passing yards that set up 2nd and Goal on the 7-yard line — and his gutsy rushing attempt that tied the game with a score.
That signature poise and decision-making under pressure secured the victory in the final 10 minutes as well. No one in football could pull off the overtime drive Brees together quite like he did on Sunday.
Knowing that Brees can find the right checkdown or throw his athletes open into space, Payton and his staff can afford to take their time in pressure situations like overtime against a division rival. The big gain of the 15-play, 80-yard winning drive was a quick toss to Michael Thomas in the left flat, which Thomas took for 23 yards.
Consistently, those little flips to Thomas and Kamara led to chunks of yardage against a weakened Atlanta defense. Without safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones, the Falcons’ swarming machine was at less than full strength. Kamara and Thomas combined for 24 receptions and over half Brees’ yardage.
The Saints didn’t really take a big shot at any point in overtime, instead methodically moving the ball until they were in range to score. At the goal line, it was Brees’ turn yet again, flopping over the plane for the game-winning touchdown.
This one was big not only because of what it might mean for the Saints’ offense going forward after two puzzling weeks of playing down to lesser opponents, but because of the cushion it gives them over Atlanta in the NFC South. Carolina won again Sunday to move to 2-1, even with the Saints, and Tampa Bay is favored slightly over Pittsburgh on Monday night.
New Orleans is now tied atop the division with an easier schedule ahead — at the Giants, home against Washington, then at Baltimore.