The New Orleans Saints will take comfort in knowing they don’t have to face Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy or linebacker Lavonte David again until Week 17, since that dynamic duo caused them major problems this past Sunday.
The Saints will take even more comfort in the fact that they eventually wore those guys down in a 37-31 overtime victory that included 91 offensive snaps (including penalties).
Khiry Robinson’s game-winning 18-yard touchdown run in overtime was a masterpiece by the Saints’ entire offense -- maybe their single best effort of the season from design to execution.
It was a stretch run to the left that was sprung by an outstanding crack-back block by tight end Josh Hill that took out both end Michael Johnson and tackle Clinton McDonald. Robinson then turned the corner and found a huge lane behind more perfectly executed blocks by guard Jahri Evans (against David), guard Ben Grubbs, tackle Terron Armstead, fullback Austin Johnson and tight end Benjamin Watson.
It was Robinson’s fourth consecutive run to close out the drive, and his career-high 21st run of the game.
Here are more observations after reviewing the tape:
The screen returns: The Saints also scored on a vintage 15-yard screen pass to Pierre Thomas in the second quarter and a 27-yard toss play to Thomas in the fourth quarter that was set up like a screen pass. Thomas also had gains of 19 and 13 yards on screen passes late in the game. Defenses had gotten wise to the Saints’ love for that play dating back to last year. But on a day when the Saints struggled to throw the ball downfield, it was a reminder that you can’t take everything away from this offense.
Evans had two outstanding blocks on the 27-yard touchdown run, which also included a nice crack-back block by Watson. Grubbs, Armstead, center Tim Lelito and receiver Brandin Cooks also had noteworthy blocks on some of those plays, but they weren’t the only ones.
One screen late in the fourth quarter did get blown up, though, when Thomas was hit for an 8-yard loss. And sure enough, it was a combination of McCoy slowing down Evans at the line so he couldn’t get a block on David, who shot in for the tackle.
Ugly interceptions: The line was hardly perfect Sunday, which was obvious to anyone watching since quarterback Drew Brees was under pressure on two of the uglier interceptions of his career (and had a hand in his face on a third interception). Brees made poor decisions to try and force the first two balls out while he was getting hit.
The second was the worst. Brees was being swallowed up in the pocket after Johnson drove back Armstead and McCoy drove back Evans. Brees was actually pressed against Armstead before he decided to throw the ball, and his pass fluttered into the air after he tripped over Armstead’s foot. … McCoy also had Brees by his legs as he threw the first interception after getting a good push against Evans.
On the final interception late in the fourth quarter, Brees wasn’t able to fully step into a deep pass that was underthrown for Robert Meachem because of late pressure from end Jacquies Smith, who came around from the left end and found a path up the middle behind McCoy.
McCoy proved to be a handful for Evans throughout the day, busting through the line four or five other times as well on both run plays and pass plays. When I asked players about McCoy last week, they all said his “get-off” was the most impressive thing about him. He lived up to his reputation.
Brees’ good throws: Brees had one of his more inefficient days overall -- especially when it came to those deep throws, as I’ve dissected at length this week. But he remained very sharp on a ton of mid-range throws as he completed 35 of 57 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns.
Among the highlights were a beautiful 36-yard strike that led receiver Marques Colston down the middle of the field; a similar 23-yard strike to tight end Jimmy Graham in traffic; a perfectly-placed floater to Hill that went for 37 yards; a 13-yard strike to Watson while on the run; a well-placed 16-yarder to Cooks on third-and-10; a 21-yarder to Colston to start overtime; and another 11-yard strike to Watson on third-and-9 in overtime.
Brees’ two TD passes were the screen to Thomas and a 5-yard pass to Travaris Cadet on third-and-goal after Cadet burned David with a nifty in-and-out cut.
Other highlights: Thomas bowled over the bigger end Johnson and safety Major Wright to turn a potential loss into a 4-yard gain. Robinson also ran hard and decisive, with two or three really sharp cuts on longer gains. … The Saints got very creative with their use of Cooks, though the results were hit or miss as he had nine catches for 56 yards and two runs for 15 yards. My favorite was a fake end-around, in which Cooks reversed course to catch a 9-yard pass.
Other lowlights: Colston had another costly drop that could have helped the Saints seal the deal late in the fourth quarter. Graham also failed to reel in a short third-down pass in the first half, but Barron made a nice effort to jar it loose. … The run game wasn’t perfect either, especially early. Right tackle Zach Strief missed a pair of blocks on a Robinson run and a Cooks screen pass. Hill missed one on a run where Robinson lost three yards. Replacement tackle Bryce Harris fell down on a 2-yard loss by Robinson. Robinson himself fell down once on a short run that stalled a drive.