METAIRIE, La. – Kenny Stills didn’t exactly need a “breakthrough moment” to boost his confidence or validate his place in the New Orleans Saints' offense. The rookie receiver had already earned that trust from coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees during his standout performance in the preseason.
But Stills’ first NFL touchdown catch in Week 6 was nevertheless a pretty spectacular moment, considering the circumstances. A highlight-reel catch on a 34-yard toss, on third-and-20, to give the Saints a fourth-quarter lead on the road against the New England Patriots. It probably would have gotten a lot more attention if Patriots quarterback Tom Brady hadn't spoiled the moment with a game-winning TD pass in the final seconds.
“That was a big play on a third down, a third-and-long, that put us ahead,” Payton said. “So especially as his first touchdown catch, that was a pretty special catch. To possess the ball even when he hit the ground, with the rules the way they are, he did a great job.”
Stills even showed some veteran savvy on the play, getting just enough of a push-off against cornerback Alfonzo Dennard to gain leverage without drawing a flag.
But the fifth-round draft pick out of Oklahoma didn’t want to take much credit for the play.
“I mean, it’s a big play in that it’s my first touchdown. But other than that, I just felt like any of the other guys would have made that play,” Stills said. “You can’t just make one play give you a confidence boost. But it’s great. I ran up to Drew after and I told him, ‘Thanks for having the confidence in me to make a play.’
“If anything it just maybe boosts our relationship and his confidence in me. But I wouldn’t say that it does anything for me. I’m not walking around here with my head the size of a basketball now.”
Whether or not Stills needed it, the play also served as a reminder of what veteran teammates had been telling the rookie earlier this year – that he needs to stay patient and prepared, because Brees isn’t afraid to throw anybody’s way at any time.
Stills had just seven catches for 134 yards through the first five games before catching three passes for 64 yards against the Patriots. His role could be even more important Sunday against the Buffalo Bills if tight end Jimmy Graham is out or limited with a foot injury.
Payton also credited second-year pro Nick Toon for his continued development. Toon has just three catches for 60 yards this season, but two of them were big ones – an 18-yard catch on third-and-12 against Miami and a 35-yard catch against Chicago.
“They just keep improving and keep making plays on their opportunities,” Payton said.