NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints finally broke their Week 1 curse in the most improbable fashion imaginable: A 58-yard field goal by Wil Lutz as time expired for a 30-28 victory over the Houston Texans -- just 37 seconds after they had lost the lead by allowing a two-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
It was the longest field goal in the final 10 seconds of a season opener since the NFL/AFL merger, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. So that's all it took?!
The Saints are now 1-0 for the first time since 2013. And man, oh man, they never needed to win a season opener more than this one. They needed this win to help them move on from the way last season ended. And they really needed it with the brutal stretch they have coming up (at the Rams in Week 2, at the Seahawks in Week 3, vs. the Cowboys in Week 4).
“It’s hard to believe (this was the Saints’ first opening win in six years). But, yes, it’s great to start the season off with a win so we can start in the positive,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “Obviously we know the stretch of games we have coming up here. … Kind of the gauntlet for the first quarter of the season. So we know what we’re up against, and we’ve gotta make improvements very quickly because we need to be playing our best football.”
The Saints had to rally back from an ugly 14-3 deficit in the first half and the uglier 28-27 deficit in the final minute. But big performances from Lutz, Brees, running back Alvin Kamara and others helped them exorcise some serious demons.
“It’s just a huge win,” said Kamara, who described the Saints’ mental toughness as “amazing.”
“I don’t think anybody gets down when we’re struggling,” Kamara said. “I mean, that’s a crazy situation to start the season off with.”
Buy a breakout performance: OK, you don’t need me to tell you that Kamara is really, really good. But many people were wondering how he’d split the workload with new running mate Latavius Murray. And Monday’s game was a reminder that Kamara is so explosive and dynamic that he can do a ton even with the “pitch count” that Sean Payton said he likes. Kamara had 13 carries for 97 yards and seven catches for 72 yards. (Murray had a nice debut as well, thanks to a 30-yard TD run.)
QB breakdown: Brees had one huge, uncharacteristic blip on the opening drive when he threw his first red zone interception since 2017. He tried to force an ill-advised pass while being chased by J.J. Watt. But he rallied back to complete 32 of 43 passes for 370 yards and two touchdowns, including a critical deep ball to Ted Ginn Jr. in the final minutes that might quiet the questions about his 40-year-old arm for one night at least.
Troubling trend: My biggest question heading into this offseason was how much the Saints would miss DT Sheldon Rankins (still recovering from a torn Achilles) and former starting DE Alex Okafor (now in Kansas City). The good news is that they came up with six sacks on Monday night -- including two by preseason breakout DE Trey Hendrickson and two assists by new nose tackle Malcom Brown. The bad news is they got gashed up the middle by Watson and RB Carlos Hyde while allowing a total of 180 rushing yards. Getting DT David Onyemata back from suspension next week will help. Getting Rankins back in a few weeks will help even more.
Bold prediction for next week: It will come down to the final 37 seconds again. Payton said this will be a short week for the Saints, “yet there’s so much we need to clean up on from that tape” -- especially their two-minute defense -- before they face an explosive Rams offense.
Payton said the Saints played “bad football” after they gave up their second-half leads so quickly, especially considering they had identified DeAndre Hopkins as a “Don’t let him beat you” guy.
“And we tried to,” Payton said. “The only upside is that we let ‘em score quick enough to where we had time to come back and kick a field goal. That’s trying to look at the bright side of things, I guess. But that has to change.”
At some point, the Saints might get back to some of those dominant wins that we saw during last year’s 10-game win streak. But it ain’t gonna come in L.A. against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs in January. They don’t get to exorcise those demons that easily.