Cameron Jordan: Battle-tested Saints are 'here for all smoke'

METAIRIE, La. -- Cameron Jordan almost seemed to surprise himself when he started rattling off all of the "slugfests" the New Orleans Saints have been in this season.

Obviously the past two games qualify -- back-to-back, come-from-behind wins on the road at Baltimore in Week 7 and at Minnesota in Week 8 to roll their win streak to six straight.

But Jordan said this is a battle-tested team that has been doing this all season.

"I mean, we started off in a slugfest with Tampa Bay," Jordan said of the Saints' season-opening 48-40 loss -- their only loss of the season. "Then a slugfest with Cleveland [an ugly 21-18 win that included four missed kicks by the Browns]. Then Atlanta [a 43-37 overtime thriller] ... was definitely a slugfest.

"We're here for it. If you’d like to say, we're here for all smoke."

Translation: Bring on the fight. We're ready for any style of game.

Which is a pretty good attitude to have with the NFL's biggest bullies heading to town on Sunday -- the 8-0 Los Angeles Rams.

"We've been in so many slugfests over the past seven games, and we've come to play all four quarters. At any point in time, you've never seen us give up. We've always fought until the very end," Jordan said. "So when I say, 'We're here for any smoke,' we simply are ready to play all 60 minutes throughout."

And when you do that, the Saints have learned, good things can happen.

Like, say, the Ravens' sensational kicker, Justin Tucker, missing the first extra point of his career. Or the Vikings' sensational receiver, Adam Thielen, losing a fumble in the red zone.

"It's been different teams and different games, and yet there's some similar patterns that are important," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "And we'll get challenged a whole bunch this week with this Rams team we're gonna be playing."

A week ago, I wondered which of the Saints' victories was their most impressive:

The 43-19 rout of the Washington Redskins at home in Week 5, when their offense was firing on all cylinders? Or the 24-23 win they had to grind out at Baltimore, when they were trailing 17-7 at the start of the fourth quarter and converted a total of four fourth-down conversions?

Well, add yet another contender to the mix.

Sunday night's 30-20 victory at Minnesota wasn't the Saints' prettiest of the season, but it was arguably their most important.

Not only did they prove they could finally win at Minnesota, where the Vikings beat them twice last season (in Week 1 and the playoffs). But they also proved they could win a game in which quarterback Drew Brees threw for only 120 yards and surrendered his first interception of the season.

When's the last time that happened? Never. It was the lowest yardage total of Brees' 18-year career when he played a full game.

Yet this time the Saints' embattled pass defense -- and nickelback P.J. Williams, in particular -- played the unlikely role of hero after struggling for much of the season and much of the first half in Minnesota.

Williams forced the game-changing fumble by Thielen late in the first half when the Vikings were threatening to take a 20-10 lead, and cornerback Marshon Lattimore returned it 54 yards to set up a Saints touchdown instead.

Then Williams returned an interception for a touchdown in the third quarter as New Orleans started to run away with it. A fourth-and-1 pass breakup by Lattimore and two sacks apiece by Sheldon Rankins and rookie Marcus Davenport also contributed to the cause.

"To win games in this league says a lot. We feel like we're a team that knows how to win," Williams said. "Get it done defensively or offensively, we definitely tie everything together. If we play bad on D, the offense will pick it up. If we play bad on O, the D will pick it up.

"I feel like we're just getting better, and this is only the beginning."

This is what we saw from the 2017 Saints, who won the NFC South with an 11-5 record despite an 0-2 start, because they were more balanced than ever before in the Payton-Brees era. Brees practically became a supporting actor compared to the dynamic run game led by Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. And the defense stepped up in a major way, led by Jordan, Lattimore and others.

This season, the Saints leaned on Brees, 39, to be Superman a little more often early in the season (and he gladly obliged in the wins against Atlanta, Washington and in the fourth quarter against Baltimore, among others). Brees hadn't thrown a single interception all year until he misfired in the second quarter at Minnesota.

The Saints' pass defense remains a concern, which is why they just traded for cornerback Eli Apple last week. They rank 28th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game, 30th in passing yards allowed per attempt, 30th in opponents' quarterback rating and 30th in red zone defense.

But they have shown gradual improvement while holding each of their past four opponents to 23 points or less. And the win at Minnesota proved they can step up when needed.

"I think it says a lot about the team," Brees said. "Obviously we come into every game with a ton of confidence. I think we feel really confident going on the road.

"We feel like we're battle-tested. We feel like we've won in a lot of different ways. We've been in a lot of different types of games already in the first part of the season."

If the Saints are "here for the smoke" again in Week 9, they could officially cement themselves as the NFC's team to beat.