Saints' defense gets revenge at Minnesota with sixth straight win

MINNEAPOLIS -- This time, the New Orleans Saints' defense stole one away from the Minnesota Vikings.

An improbable pick-six by cornerback P.J. Williams in the third quarter fueled the Saints' sixth straight victory, and they head toward a clash of the NFC titans next Sunday in the Mercedes‐Benz Superdome: The 8-0 Los Angeles Rams at the 6-1 Saints.

No, Sunday night's 30-20 victory at Minnesota didn't make up for the "Minneapolis Miracle.”

But it did provide a little revenge for that crushing playoff loss in January, which ended with Stefon Diggs' stunning, 61-yard touchdown as time expired.

"Man, anybody that played here last year, they can say anything. But we definitely wanted to come in here and get this win bad," P.J. Williams said. "We knew they were a good team, this was a big game for us, and they took us out last year. So we definitely wanted to make sure we took them out today."

Meanwhile, Saints safety Marcus Williams, who became known as the victim of the "Miracle" when he infamously missed a tackle against Diggs in January, said this game "wasn't about redemption for me."

Marcus Williams said he was playing for a greater cause -- two loved ones who recently passed away from cancer. His grandfather, with whom he was very close, passed away on Tuesday. And Sunday was the birthday of his cousin, who died a year and a half ago.

"So it was an emotional game for me just because of them. But I held it back until after the game, and I just went out there and played my all," said Marcus Williams, who said he was fortunate to get to visit his grandfather during the Saints' recent bye week. "I put them on my shoulders and I just played for them."

As Marcus Williams was talking, Saints linebacker Demario Davis shouted from a nearby locker: "Never quit story right there. Never quit. That's the headline tomorrow, 'Never quit.'"

And Marcus Williams and Diggs shared an embrace on the field after the game:

Sunday's game definitely redemption for the Saints' other Williams, P.J., who was getting picked on early and often Sunday before he turned the game around. He forced a game-changing fumble against the Vikings' dominant playmaker, Adam Thielen, in the second quarter, then returned the interception for a touchdown in the third (on a pass that was intended for Diggs, by the way).

Perhaps most importantly, Sunday's game provided reason for hope that New Orleans' embattled secondary can do enough to keep this team in serious Super Bowl contention. Nobody who watched the first 29 minutes -- or the first two months of this season, for that matter -- would have expected the Saints' secondary to lead New Orleans to its most important victory to date.

But that's exactly what happened on a night when Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for 120 yards and threw his first interception of the season in the second quarter against a feisty Vikings defense.

It was the lowest yardage total of Brees' career when he played a full game.

The Saints' offense definitely contributed to the win (Alvin Kamara had 76 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns, and Michael Thomas caught five passes for 81 yards). But the Saints would not have won if the defense hadn't stepped up against one of the NFL's most potent passing attacks.

Williams' forced fumble was a game-changer. He jarred the ball loose from Thielen with his helmet after Thielen had reached New Orleans' 14-yard line and Minnesota was threatening to take a 20-10 lead. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore returned it 54 yards to set up a Saints TD in the final minute of the first half.

"Really, you're telling yourself, "Man I want to make a big play, try to turn things around," P.J. Williams said. "I'm like, 'OK, I done played the worst I can play. Now let's go make a play.' That's really how I'm thinking about it. So some plays fell to me, and it was definitely a good turnaround for the team.

"I feel like we're a strong group, and I feel like we're just getting stronger."

Early in the third quarter, Lattimore broke up a pass on fourth-and-1. Then Williams snagged the interception from quarterback Kirk Cousins when Diggs didn't run to the spot where Cousins threw the ball. Then the pass rush piled on. Sheldon Rankins and Marcus Davenport each finished the game with two sacks.

"Man, we knew we had to step up," Lattimore said. "It wasn't the best game for us all the way around. But we got the key stops. P.J. had two turnovers. And we just tried to stay on 'em.

"We just had to step up to the challenge, because you know the offense is always gonna be there to do their job. And we had to step up."

Heading into this week, ESPN's Football Power Index rated New Orleans' defense as the worst in the NFL, based on its efficiency ratings.

The Saints' pass defense had become such a concern that they traded fourth- and seventh-round draft picks to acquire cornerback Eli Apple from the New York Giants earlier this week. (Apple started Sunday night, while former starter Ken Crawley was inactive. Apple got picked on a bit early but held tight in the second half like the rest of the defense).

The Saints' defense will likely battle inconsistent performances for the remainder of the season, especially with coach Sean McVay, quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley and the Rams' dynamic receiving corps heading to town.

But if the Saints' defense can keep stepping up when needed in big moments such as these, it won't have to be traveling back to Minnesota or anywhere else come January.