CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Once again, bad things were happening to the New Orleans Saints on the road Thursday night.
An interception on the opening drive that bounced off the hands of receiver Kenny Stills and into the waiting arms of a defensive tackle. A fumble by quarterback Drew Brees on the second drive after fullback Erik Lorig got shoved into him.
Once again, turnovers were threatening to derail the Saints’ season.
But if you think the Saints turned things around in their 28-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers by getting conservative or playing it safe, then you haven’t been paying much attention to Brees and coach Sean Payton over the past nine years.
“You play to win the game!” Brees said, channeling Herm Edwards’ classic rant. “Listen, if you’re worried about bad things happening all the time and you play conservative and you play not to (lose), that’s when things don’t go your way.”
So the Saints kept their foot on the gas even when they were facing a third-and-10 from their own 15-yard line with 1:40 remaining and no timeouts left in the first half. And it paid off with a 1-yard TD pass to tight end Jimmy Graham with three seconds remaining.
Later, Brees scored on a 1-yard TD dive on fourth-and-goal when he had the option to snap it or call a timeout based on what he saw from the defense. (Was there any doubt?)
“You’re trying to be smart and not foolish,” Payton said of the two-minute drill, which included another sack-fumble against Brees (that he recovered). “You’re very comfortable saying, ‘Hey, if we have to we’ll punt it here or run out the clock. But, listen, Drew was outstanding on that drive.”
The TD pass was set up by a huge 32-yard pass interference penalty when Brees took a deep shot for Robert Meachem in the end zone.
“You cannot play quarterback in this league being afraid of what might happen. You’ve got to trust that the guy’s either going to make a play on it or he’s going to play defense,” Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said of the throw to Meachem. “And he did. But we’re never going to become conservative. Ever.”
Brees' aggressive nature admittedly led to some forced interceptions earlier this season. But he's always been willing to push the envelope, and the good has outweighed the bad throughout his career.
“We’ve rehearsed that two-minute drill, we’ve done it so many times,” Brees said. “How many times have you seen us go down and score inside of 30 seconds? Are there going to be mistakes at times, are you going to get stopped or worst case, turn it over? And you try not to let that happen, but it’s football. And sometimes it does, and you’ve got to overcome it.”
The Saints also opened up their game plan in general as the game went on.
They clearly went into the game with an intention to run the ball a lot against a Carolina defense that ranked last in the NFL in yards allowed per carry. But the run game wasn’t getting off the ground. So even though they had the early interception and fumbles, they continued to aggressively air it out.
Brees finished 24-of-34 for 297 yards, one touchdown, one pick and four sacks.
They went back to the run game late once they opened a lead, and Mark Ingram finished with 100 yards on 30 carries -- the most by any Saints back in the Payton-Brees era.
The Saints will never stop being aggressive. But if they can do it while being balanced, all the better.