If you want to know what champions are made of, look no further than the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
They took everything the San Francisco 49ers could throw out them Monday night and the 49ers played just about as good a game as they could have. It didn’t matter because the Saints are the better team and they were going to do whatever it took to win, 25-22, on a last-second field goal by Garrett Hartley.
That’s exactly what happened after the 49ers tied the game at 22 with one minute, 19 seconds left. Then, with the wind literally at his back, Drew Brees did exactly what he did last year -- when the wind was symbolically at his back -- all the way to the Super Bowl.
Although he hadn’t been his usual precise self much of the night, Brees was a machine on the final drive. His back-shoulder pass to Marques Colston to set up the field goal was a thing of beauty. Hartley’s field goal wasn’t a work of art, but the kick made it through the uprights and the Saints are 2-0.
On to some more observations on the Saints.
The offense hasn’t been spectacular in the first two games, but I don’t think that’s a big concern. In both games, the offense came through when it mattered most and that’s all that really counts. The Saints were going against two good defenses in San Francisco and Minnesota. With Brees and coach Sean Payton, you have to assume the offense will get on track on a consistent basis.
The defense hasn’t been dominant by any means, but the encouraging thing is the Saints are coming up with turnovers. They did it against the 49ers and that was a big part of the reason why the Saints won. They took a bunch of body blows from running back Frank Gore and quarterback Alex Smith had one of the best games of his career. But the Saints still forced two interceptions and recovered two fumbles.
The late-game injury to Reggie Bush is more than a little concerning. We don’t know how severe it is yet, but Bush was helped off and wasn’t putting any weight on his right leg as he came off the field. The injury came on a play where Bush mishandled a punt, but recovered the ball. But prior to that, Bush had a huge punt return at the end of the third quarter. He also caught a pass for the game’s first touchdown. If Bush is out for an extended period, the Saints are going to have to make some major adjustments to their offense. Bush is used as a running back and a receiver, and defenses have to account for his whereabouts at all times. If Bush isn’t around, the Saints are going to have to rely heavily on Pierre Thomas as their main runner and they might have to use receivers in some of the ways they got Bush the ball in the passing game.
The last quarter or so felt a lot like a Super Bowl flashback. Hartley was making big kicks. Punter Thomas Morstead hit a couple of boomers and Tracy Porter came up with a crucial interception. You can argue those three young guys aren’t superstars. But a lot of NFL players like to say, “Big players make big plays.’’ Hartley, Morstead and Porter are building a pretty good track record of making big plays.
Forget the 24-hour rule that NFL teams follow no matter whether it’s celebrating a win or getting over a loss. The Saints have to forget this game immediately. That’s out of necessity. They’ve got a short week. They host the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday in the Superdome. Atlanta’s coming off a big win, it is the main challenger to the Saints in the NFC South and, as close as the Saints' games with San Francisco and Minnesota were, both those teams are 0-2. The Falcons may be the best opponent the Saints have seen yet.