2017 was such an exhilarating year as a Saints fan. First playoff appearance since 2013, outstanding rookie class yielding the offensive and defensive rookies of the year, a historically successful ground attack, and a reinvigorated defense all made for an inspired season of football. Though the postseason ended short of the team’s potential on a miracle, the regular season went from doom to boom rather quickly. With that, I’ll be counting down my top five Saints games of 2017.
At long last, we’re at game #1: the Saints 34-31 comeback against Washington.
This should honestly come as no surprise, but it’s been fun putting these together none the less. The was the Saints’ most exhilarating game of the regular season, bar none. Unlike the Buffalo game in which the Saints completely obliterated the Bills for sixty minutes, this was a game in which the Saints had to face adversity to win. And unlike the Detroit game (#2 on this list), that adversity didn’t come about from nearly blowing a huge lead. This test began right away in the first quarter and the Saints had to claw their way back into the game in order to get a head-earned win.
It’s no mystery that this was an exciting game, but I’m stoked to get write on it after having re-watched it so many times over the offseason. While the final score might show a story of a closely fought battle, the fact of the matter is that this game looked to be doomed from the first drive.
This game’s first quarter was easily one of the most disappointing all season outside of the September games. Drew Brees through a deep interception on the Saints’ first possession, the defense was giving up big play after big play and then, during the first defensive series, Marshon Lattimore rolls an ankle and is out for the rest of the game. He did try to return in the second half but then the coaching staff promptly, and wisely, called that off. It was the closest thing to Murphy’s Law (not the St. Louis Rapper Murphy Lee’s album) we’d felt in some time.
Despite losing Lattimore early in the game, the Saints did well to hang around during the first half thanks to Mark Ingram and Wil Lutz who combined for 13 points to close the deficit to only a four-point game by the half. The Saints and Washington traded scores all throughout the first two quarters each scoring (by touchdown or field goal) four times. The only turnover coming on that Drew Brees interception at the beginning of the game.
Come the second half, Washington would then go on to score two more touchdowns to increase their lead to 15 points 31-16 (Wil Lutz also added another field goal) with only 5:58 left in the fourth quarter. This is one of those situations in which many fan bases say “Man, I relly wish we had a future first-ballot Hall of Fame Quarterback that’s lead 29 fourth quarter comebacks throughout his career and sets records like babies go through diapers.” And then that’s when a Saints fan base goes, “Oh right. We do.”
Brees Goes on a Tear
While Drew Brees and the Saints regained possession with 5:58 on the clock, it took them a while to get into scoring range. By the time they were in position to cap off their 75-yard drive only 2:58 remained. But after Coby Fleener accounted for 62 of the drive’s 75 yards (there was also a 10-yard holding penalty), Brees was able to get the ball in the endzone by not-yet-my-final-form Josh Hill.
When Washington took over possession again after the kickoff, their offense failed to get a first down and gave up a quick three-and-out thanks, yet again, to Manti Te’o and Vonn Bell. The tandem stuffed a Samaje Perine 3rd-and-1run for the loss of a yard and put the ball back into the hands of Brees, the man on fire.
Brees then proceeded to lead an 87-yard drive in less than 50 seconds by completing four straight passes (after an interception was wiped away by penalty) for more than 15 yards to Michael Thomas for 17 yards, Ted Ginn Jr for 18, Coby Fleener for 29 on a catch and run, and finally Alvin Kamara for a juggling catch and 18-yard touchdown. By the end of this drive, Drew Brees had completed 11 straight passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns. Again, this includes a 10-yard holding penalty for which he also needed to overcome and a five-yard hands to the face penalty on Washinton. Sean Payton then called on Alvin Kamara again for a toss to the left side, expertly sealed by TE Josh Hill for the two-point conversation.
The Saints defense didn’t necessarily seal the game by allowing Kirk Cousins, who played a brilliant game until a point, to lead Washington down to the NO 34 yard line with 31 seconds left. At which point Cousins audibled out of a running play when he read run defense on a 1st and 10 and then curiously launched the ball directly out of bounds after the snap resulting in an intentional grounding penalty which forced a loss of down, a 10 yard penalty, and a 10 second run off the clock. Then, on 2nd and 10 with only nine seconds left, Dennis Allen called his patented Vonn Bell blitz off the blind side and he demolished Cousins, forcing a fumble at the end of regulation sending the game into overtime.
Come overtime, the Saints defense did its job very well in forcing a three-and-out with two incomplete passes and a 10-yard sack Mr. Triple Double Cam Jordan. Redeeming the unit after giving up 456 total yards, third most of the season, by putting the ball back into the hands of Drew Brees after a 14 yard punt return by TommyLee Lewis. Then just when everyone expected Brees to complete the comeback by leading the Saints down the field, he simply handed the ball off to Mark Ingram who gained 51 of his 155 total scrimmage yards in two plays to put the Saints in field goal position for Wil Lutz to finish off the miraculous comeback in New Orleans. Ingram finished with 134 rushing yards and Brees finished the game with 385 passing yards, making up the bulk of the Saints’ 535 total yards. All three, season highs.
The Saints made history on a couple of different levels this game. Firstly, they became the first team since the Tim Tebow-lead 2011 Denver Broncos to successfully come back from a 15-point deficit with less than three minutes remaining in the game. That 15-point disadvantage was the largest comeback victory in franchise history. In winning this game, the Saints also became the first team in NFL history to win eight-straight after losing two in a row.
Alvin Kamara spoke recently about how hard it is to stop the Saints offensive attack. Kamara said “How do you? You got to account for Mike, you got to account for Drew, you got to account for Mark, me, Ted. I mean, it’s hard. There’s so many playmakers.” While he went on to recount the Carolina Panthers’ defensive gameplan in the playoff, this game against Washington showed that the Saints, with this firepower, are never out of contention. If they can’t hurt you one way, they’ll find another.
That concludes our top five games of the 2017 Saints season! There were some incredible matches throughout the season and so many reasons to be excited for what’s ahead. Now that training camp is up and running, we can begin to direct our attention to the bright future of this squad. But always will remain the excitement and joy that this 2017 group inspired in a rejuvenated fan base.