The Saints received the opening kick and immediately picked up where they left off in the last game Drew Brees played in against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where they struggled to move the ball and protect Brees. It was a quick three and out, topped off with Zach Strief getting beat and allowing Brees to get hit hard as he threw the ball. Thankfully, he was OK and New Orleans would punt.
Dallas did not waste any time getting going with their first chance with the ball. Joseph Randle took their first play for a gain of 14 after cutting back and making multiple defenders miss. On the next play, Lance Dunbar ripped off a 45 yard gain, getting the Cowboys all the way down to the Saints 27 yard line. Thankfully, those were the two longest runs the Saints allowed throughout the entire night and they eventually stopped them and forced a 30 yard Dan Bailey field goal to open the scoring.
New Orleans took over for their second possession and Brees and company finally looked like the Saints we’re used to seeing in the Superdome, especially in prime time. They marched 80 yards in 11 plays, capping off the drive with a 3 yard touchdown pass from Brees to Josh hill, taking the 7-3 lead. The Cowboys answered right back with an equally impressive drive, going 80 yards in 10 plays, finished off with a 1 yard touchdown run by Randle to retake the lead. On the final five possessions of the first half, the teams then each punted twice and only amassed a total of 70 yards, sending the game to halftime with a score of 10-7.
Dallas received the opening kick of the second half, but went three and out and punted the ball to New Orleans for their first possession of the third quarter. Marcus Murphy returned the punt 20 yards, setting the Saints up with great field position at the Cowboys 38 yard line. Brees and the offense were unable to gain any yardage, answering with a three and out of their own, but on Thomas Morstead’s punt, Dallas was penalized five yards for their gunner illegally running down field out of bounds. The extra yardage gave Sean Payton the confidence to trust a long field goal attempt and Hocker delivered. He split the uprights from 51 yards out with a perfect kick, tying the game at 10-10.
The teams would then trade field goals on the following two possessions, as Bailey hit his second of the night from 38 yards and Hocker hit his second from 29 yards out. With the score tied at 13-13, Brandon Weeden and the Cowboy offense could not get much going and was forced to punt for the fourth time of the game. Drew Brees and the offense then had their chance to reclaim the lead, but after getting into Cowboy territory, came up short on a 3rd down and 1. Payton called timeout to think his decision over, then kept the offense on the field for 4th down. Khiry Robinson only needed one, but he gained nine yards to keep the drive going. New Orleans then ran the ball on the next five plays, with Robinson punching the fifth one into the end-zone from a yard out, giving the Saints the 20-13 lead with 7:58 left in the game.
Dallas would go three and out on the following drive, with Bobby Richardson and Brandon Browner coming up big on a 3rd and 1, stuffing Christine Michael in the backfield for a loss. Brees and his offense then had the chance to put the game out of reach or chew a good bit of the clock, but were unfortunately unable to do either. They gained 33 yards and picked up one first down, but were only able to run 1:39 off of the clock and they allowed the Cowboys to hold on to all three of their timeouts.
Starting at their own 9 yard line, Weeden and his offense got down field in a hurry. After having his 1st down pass batted down at the line of scrimmage, Weeden then completed consecutive passes of 24, 28, and 19 yards to get Dallas down to the New Orleans 20 yard line. The Saints then held them to three yards on the next three plays, setting up a 4th and 7 from the 17 yard line. After a solid game of coverage, Delvin Breaux allowed Terrance Williams to slip by him and Weeden dropped the ball right into the back corner of the end-zone for Williams to make a beautiful diving catch, tying it up at 20-20.
With no timeouts left, Brees had 1:51 left to set his team up for a potential game-winning field goal. He did just that with huge passes to Willie Snead, then Brandon Coleman to get the ball to the Dallas 17 yard line with :24 left on the clock. The Saints would then run the ball a few timeouts as Dallas Head Coach Jason Garrett called all three of his timeouts to try and conserve as much time as possible in case something crazy happened. Well, something crazy happened. If you read the intro, you already know what happened from there, as Hocker missed the game-winning field goal attempt from 30 yards out. The Cowboys took over with :12 left, but just took a knee and sent the game to overtime.
The 80-yard touchdown from Brees to Spiller on the second play set the record for shortest overtime in NFL history, as it took just thirteen seconds for the Saints to erase the doubt that had creeped throughout the Superdome, giving them their first win of the season.
- Sean Payton called a very conservative game with the offense. I’m sure he didn’t want to come out and force Brees to strain his shoulder throwing the ball deep constantly, but it was almost never that they threw the ball down field. On all of the Saints nine drives prior to the final one of regulation and the one in overtime, Brees’ passes averaged 3.6 yards of air time, meaning it was nothing but short throws all night. Like I said, while I’m sure the shoulder was a factor, I largely believe that the game plan was based off of Payton’s insecurity with the pass protection. Rightfully so. Zach Strief was beat on multiple occasions, along with pressure from other areas throughout the night. Brees was sacked three times and under duress on most of his passes that weren’t quick.
- Speaking of Brees, for having a bad shoulder, he looked very good. It’s always easier to be efficient when throwing nothing but short passes, but it’s not like he finished with around 200 yards passing. He threw for 359 yards and completed 80.4% of his passes. That’s impressive even when 100% healthy, much less with the pain and limited mobility that he was playing through.
- Dear Sean Payton, please get the ball into C.J. Spiller’s hands more frequently. Signed, everyone. Well, except for whoever is playing the Saints. Holy cow, how fast did he look on that touchdown reception as he was galloping down the sideline? Even aside from that play, Spiller did something good every time he touched the ball, whether it was picking up a first down or just picking up five or six yards. After the Carolina game last week, Payton acknowledged that Spiller was fully recovered from his preseason knee injury and it was his fault for not getting the ball to him more. I’m sure he still feels that way after what the running back did last night. Needless to say, I’m excited to see what a healthy C.J. Spiller can consistently do in this offense.
- Willie Snead has truly become a favorite target of Drew Brees. Brees looked for him often, especially in pressure situations, and Snead continued to deliver. He just continues to prove why the Saints were correct with their decision to keep him around, despite his minimal chances of making the team heading in to training camp. If last night is any indication, he has surpassed Brandon Coleman for the #3 spot on the depth chart, because he was in the game in three wide receiver sets throughout the game.
- I am disappointed that I have to keep saying this, but Zach Strief once again struggled badly. He allowed Brees to get hit numerous times and at some point, something has to give.
- Piggybacking off of the previous observation, Andrus Peat looks closer and closer to being ready to become a starter on the offensive line. He played a few snaps at left tackle while Terron Armstead appeared to be stretching out an injury and he played well. After seeing what Strief has to offer, you have to imagine that the only thing that is keeping Peat from taking over at right tackle is inexperience, but I’m not sure that it could get any worse. Brees has been hit from the right side of the line over 10 times in just three games, so we may be seeing Peat much sooner than expected. Hopefully it’s not for Armstead, though, so we’ll have to keep an eye out on the injury report this week to see what’s the deal with him.
- Hau’oli Kikaha continues to impress. He once again led the team with tackles, while also recording his team leading third sack of the season. He got the sack while beating possibly the best left tackle in the NFL in Tyron Smith, too. There were still quite a few plays where Rob Ryan continued to drop him into coverage, which I still do not understand.
- Kikaha is just one of the numerous rookies on this defense who have played exceedingly well to start the year. To be honest, they’ve been the only ones that have been actually playing well for the most part. Kenny Vaccaro has been solid so far, but the names we’ve said the most, along with Kikaha, have been Stephone Anthony, Delvin Breaux, Damian Swann, Bobby Richardson, and Tyler Davison. Anthony made quite a few plays again last night, while Breaux had great coverage on Terrance Williams for just about every play but the touchdown, Richardson showed why the Saints felt confident that it was OK to trade Akiem Hicks, and Davison recorded his first sack. It was an all-around good game for the rookies and I’m very excited to see what’s in store for the future with them.
- Jairus Byrd, Keenan Lewis, and Dannell Ellerbe all played limited snaps, but were at least on the field. Lewis was seen being worked on in the second half on the trainer’s table and to my knowledge, did not return to the game after that. That does not necessarily mean that he re-aggravated his injury, as it could have been something as little as tightness in his hip and they decided to keep him out for precautionary reasons.
- Rob Ryan went back to his typical man coverage and it was much more effective. The Saints defenders got beat a few times, but were in much better positions to make plays than a week ago against Carolina when they mostly played zone defense.
- The run defense was very solid last night. The 45 yard rush on Dallas’ second offensive play was obviously a busted play that cannot happen, but aside from that, they held the Cowboys to just 2.9 yards per carry. Against a team like Dallas with the talent on their offensive line, it is encouraging to see a solid game like last night.
- The third down defense for the Saints was exceptional. They held the Cowboys to a 25% conversion rate on third down situations, which is way more than any offense can ask for. They did a phenomenal job of getting themselves off of the field and getting winded, which correlates directly with their solid play.
- I am finishing this as of Monday afternoon and there has been no news of Zach Hocker being released, which actually surprises me. He has shown promise, like his 4/4 performance in Week 1 and his 51 yard field goal last night, but there is no excuse for any kicker in the NFL to miss the kick that he missed to win the game. I’m not one to quickly jump the gun, but my opinion is that he does not have enough of a track record to prove that last night was a fluke. He’s had one chance to win the game for his team and he failed miserably. Thankfully it was a tie game and he was bailed out, but it still does not excuse anything.
- Thomas Morstead injured his quad early in the 4th quarter and was unable to go back in to the game. I was watching him myself on the sideline and he was limping around badly. He even struggled to be able to get down on one knee to allow long snapper Justin Drescher to take a few practice snaps before Hocker’s game-winning field goal attempt. He’s another name that we have to watch on the injury report to see how badly he is hurt.
- Drew Brees – 33-41 / 359 yards / 2 TDs / 0 INTs / 80.5% completions / 119.4 QB rating / 3 times sacked
- Mark Ingram – 17 carries / 77 yards / 4.5 yards per carry / 6 receptions / 51 yards
- Khiry Robinson – 6 carries / 16 yards / 1 TD / 2.7 yards per carry
- C.J. Spiller – 2 carries / 10 yards / 5.0 yards per carry / 5 receptions / 99 yards / 1 TD
- Willie Snead – 6 receptions / 89 yards
- Brandin Cooks – 4 receptions / 25 yards
- Ben Watson – 3 receptions / 30 yards
- Marques Colston – 4 receptions / 19 yards
- Josh Hill – 2 receptions / 11 yards / 1 TD
- Hau’oli Kikaha – 8 tackles / 1 tackle for loss / 1 sack
- Stephone Anthony – 7 tackles / 1 tackle for loss / 1 sack
- Bobby Richardson – 6 tackles / 2 tackles for loss
- Tyler Davison – 4 tackles / 1 tackle for loss / 1 sack
- Delvin Breaux – 2 tackles / 2 passes defended
- Zach Hocker – 2/3 field goals (51, 29,
- Brandon Weeden – 16-26 / 246 yards / 1 TD / 0 INT / 61.5% completions / 105.6 QB rating / 3 times sacked
- Lance Dunbar – 3 carries / 54 yards
- Darren McFadden – 10 carries / 31 yards / 3.1 yards per carry
- Joseph Randle – 11 carries / 26 yards / 1 TD / 2.4 yards per carry
- Cole Beasley – 6 receptions / 62 yards
- Jason Witten – 4 receptions / 57 yards
- Terrance Williams – 3 receptions / 49 yards / 1 TD
- Brice Butler – 1 reception / 67 yards
- Anthony Hitchens – 11 tackles / 1 tackle for loss / .5 sacks
- Barry Church – 9 tackles
- Damian Wilson – 9 tackles / 1 tackle for loss / .5 sacks
- DeMarcus Lawerence – 5 tackles / 1 tackle for loss / 1 sack
- Jack Crawford – 2 tackles / 1 tackle for loss / 1 sack
- Dan Bailey – 2/2 field goals (30, 38)
- Total yards: Saints-438, Cowboys-335
- Pass yards: Saints-335, Cowboys-220
- Rush yards: Saints-103, Cowboys-115
- 1st downs: Saints-27, Cowboys-21
- 3rd down conversions: Saints-6/13, Cowboys-3/12
- Red zone TD conversions: Saints-2/4, Cowboys-2/4
- Turnovers: Saints-0, Cowboys-0
- Points off turnovers: Saints-0, Cowboys-0
- Penalties: Saints-8/64, Cowboys-6/30
- Possession: Saints-30:53, Cowboys-29:20
Next week, the Saints will travel to Philadelphia to face the 1-3 Eagles. Philadelphia lost 23-20 on the road to the Washington Redskins on Sunday. Sean Payton and the Saints have faced the Eagles under Head Coach Chip Kelley only once, which was in the 2013 Wild Card Playoff game, when New Orleans won on the road with a game-winning field goal as time expired, 26-24. I’ll be back soon for Grading the Saints and Sinners