NEW ORLEANS, La. – It took 11 weeks for the New Orleans Saints to find a quarterback combination that worked.
The Saints (4-7) eclipsed more than 300 net yards for the first time this month in a 27-20 win against the Los Angeles Rams (3-7), breaking a two-game losing skid despite missing a significant amount of starters.
Now, they'll have to prove the winning formula on offense wasn't just a fluke against another struggling team.
"We've got to carry over the momentum into this week," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "I mean, that's the most important thing we can do."
Saints coach Dennis Allen mulled over his options at quarterback at the beginning of last week, publicly hinting that he wasn't entirely satisfied with Dalton's performance lately, but announced Wednesday he was sticking with Dalton.
It was a decision that left some Saints fans dissatisfied and former starter Jameis Winston publicly lamenting the loss of his job.
Allen's solution was to give less of the reins to Dalton and a little more to Taysom Hill, whose usage has been all over the place this season. The Saints were clearly committed to involving Hill, at one point swapping the two quarterbacks almost every play against the Rams.
"The plan going in was to get Taysom the ball," Allen said. "Matter of fact, I think Andy got a little frustrated throughout the week that we had so many plays where Taysom was in at the quarterback position. But that's the great thing about our group, our group just wants to win, and they'll do whatever they have to do to try to win and that was something we felt we had a good chance this week."
Countered a smiling Dalton: "No, I'm never upset with the number of snaps that Taysom takes because I know how successful we've been able to be with it, and how many positive plays come from it. Taysom's a unique asset. A lot of teams have really good players. We happen to have one that can be all over the field and play quarterback too, and I think that's our advantage. For me, there's no discouragement when it happens."
Allen didn't want to commit to a two-quarterback system full-time, saying that would be evaluated on a week-to-week basis.
"I’m not ready to sit here and say we're just going to carbon copy the game plan for next week," he said.
Two-quarterback systems can be gimmicky and complicated, used at times in college but rarely successful in the NFL. But the results have certainly spoken for itself. Hill completed one pass for 14 yards and ran the ball nine times for 52 yards. Hill has run for at least 50 yards four times this season, with the Saints winning each game.
"That's because a lot of teams don't have what we have," right guard Cesar Ruiz said with a smile.
"This feeling I felt today, it was like, 'We're going to win this game' from the jump."
While the quarterback was the hot topic outside the building leading up to the Rams game, inside the building, players and coaches were imploring each other to let loose, be aggressive and relieve the tension.
The result was no turnovers and a season-low two penalties, leading Allen to note that they didn't do anything to beat themselves this time.
Making a concerted effort to involve Hill more was also part of the "back against the wall" feeling the Saints had entering the week. They knew that the status quo wasn't going to work with the possibility of a winning season slipping away.
"I think we approach every week with the same mentality. I think this week there may have been an added emphasis on going out to win the football game," Hill said. "Right? Like what do we have to lose, so let's call everything we’ve got on this call sheet, let's push the ball down the field. I would say maybe that was emphasized a little bit more than in weeks past."
That emphasis was shown on third-and-1 early in the game, as Dalton threw the ball downfield on a play that resulted in a 26-yard gain to tight end Juwan Johnson.
"I think that's the mindset [and] mentality we need to have," Dalton said.
The results were significant compared to last week's meager output against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dalton completed 21-of-25 passes for 260 yards, three touchdown passes and no interceptions against the Rams, setting career-highs in completion percentage (84%) and passer rating (149.6).
"I had a little pressure too," Dalton said. "So when you turn it loose and you get hit, you're on the ground, you never know what's going to happen, but to have that outcome. I felt like I put the ball in a great spot.
"Chris was exactly how we had it planned, taking that shot down the field. We got the look that we wanted and he made a big play."
Allen said that Dalton, a 12-year-veteran, has handled the uncertainty of his position well, even during the last week.
"He's a veteran player," Allen said. "He's been in this league a long time. He understands how things operate. And look, we all know as a football team, all of us understand, when you're not having the success that you want to have, everything’s going to get evaluated. I think he’s handled it outstanding."
The performance certainly bought some time for Dalton after he looked to be on the verge of potentially losing his job. But when asked about his feelings on the week, he turned the conversation to the team.
"I think at the end of the day I'm happy with the way we were able to play today," Dalton said. "The adversity that we had faced the last couple of weeks, especially offensively ... we obviously haven't played as well as we had in previous weeks.
"We had a great plan going in, and we went out and executed it, regardless of all the other stuff that goes on. I think that’s what makes you the most proud. That’s for me personally and for this group."