Saints a team of destiny?

Published 5:34 am Wednesday, December 9, 2009


AP Sports Writer

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Sure, miracles and saints go hand-in-hand — just not usually in New Orleans.

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And to hear coach Sean Payton talk, little has changed during the Saints’ unbeaten run through the first 12 games of 2009, no matter how improbable their latest victory may have looked.

“Much has been talked about in regard to fate, destiny, luck and all that,” Payton said Monday. “Obviously we can’t control if a kicker makes or misses a field goal, and yet when you’re on the short end of some tough games like that, I never hear fate, luck or destiny brought up. I hear how we have to finish better or we didn’t do this or that.”

New Orleans’ comeback seemed highly unlikely when the Redskins lined up for a 23-yard field goal with under two minutes to play on Sunday. Kicker Shaun Suisham had never missed an NFL field goal shorter than 30 yards in 29 career attempts.

His 30th such attempt went wide right. Less than a minute later, Drew Brees found Robert Meachem for a game-tying 53-yard TD pass, and the rest is history. The Saints won 33-30 in overtime, improved to 12-0, clinched the NFC South Division title and tied a franchise record for wins in a season with four games still left.

In Washington, the Redskins never trailed in regulation and were in control for most of the game. With the Saints’ top three cornerbacks — Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter and Randall Gay — all out with injuries, Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell racked up a career-high 367 yards passing.

The Saints also struggled to run the ball against Washington’s stout defensive line, finishing with a season-low 55 yards rushing.

Statistical trends pointed to the end of the Saints’ remarkable unbeaten run. Yet New Orleans benefited from an array of unusual plays to stay within striking distance.

“We find a way to win,” Saints running back Mike Bell said. “That’s what good teams do, right?”

First there was a New Orleans punt that hit Washington’s Kevin Barnes on the back. New Orleans recovered at the Redskins 41.

Several plays later, Brees was intercepted by Kareem Moore, but Meachem tracked Moore down, stripped the ball, then grabbed it and ran for a touchdown. Although that play represented the most unusual TD the Saints have scored all season, Payton held it up as a prime example of why he doesn’t want to hear about luck.

“When you look at Robert Meachem’s play, I don’t want to discredit his hustle and the effort a guy makes on a play like that,” Payton said. “I don’t want to take away from the effort and the plays that guys made.”

Payton credited the offensive line for giving Brees time on to throw the long TD pass to Meachem, as well as an earlier long scoring strike to Marques Colston. Payton cited cornerback Chris McAlister’s hit in overtime that forced a fumble by Washington’s Mike Sellers. McAlister scrambled to scoop up the ball even though officials blew the play dead, ruling that Sellers was down.

As Washington lined up for the next play, Payton called timeout because coaches cannot challenge plays in overtime.

“All I was trying to do was slow down that process and hopefully give someone a chance to look at that closely,” Payton explained. “Fortunately, they were able to take a peek.”

The call on the field was overturned, and the Saints, after losing the coin toss to start overtime, suddenly had the ball on the edge of field goal range.

Several plays later, Garrett Hartley kicked a chip shot to win it.

For the previous 42 years of the Saints’ existence, improbable events on the field usually benefited New Orleans’ opponents.

There may be no better example from recent history than “River City Relay” in December 2003. The Saints used a downfield pass and three laterals to score a potential game-tying, 75-yard touchdown on the final play of regulation, only to miss the extra point in a 20-19 loss.

Two seasons ago, the Saints tried a reverse and fumbled the exchange while clinging to a late lead against Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers then drove for a winning score.

Last season, New Orleans lost five games by three or fewer points.

The 2009 Saints are different. The victory at Washington marked their second significant comeback on the road. They also roared back from a 21-point deficit at Miami in Week 7.

When these Saints return from road games, thousands of fans line road outside the airport to welcome them back and celebrate their latest win, as they did Sunday night.

Bell, who was riding with a teammate, rolled his window down, shouted “Who dat!” and reached out to exchange high-fives.

“I’ve never been a part of anything so great,” Bell said. “I want to share with the fans how special this is.”