I have been enjoying the hell out of this New Orleans Saints season. How could I not? After losing the first two games to the Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots, the Saints have gone on an 8-game winning streak! From starting the season thinking that another mediocre time was about to start to seeing them become one of the best teams in the NFL, it’s been a roller coaster of a season so far. And while, yes, there’s every criticism that this run is built on the backs of some awful teams — like the Miami Dolphins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — it doesn’t mean that they have not been fun!
In any case, there has been some discussion on Twitter in regards to this last game and how it was one of everyone’s favorite Saints games under Sean Payton & Drew Brees. Which got me thinking which games would I put in that list. So far, not counting playoff games, the head coach/QB combo has racked up a total of 169 games together. That’s from 2006 through this past Sunday with the 2012 season taken out thanks to Roger Goodell. Of course, to be fair, I had to set aside the playoff games (particularly the 2009-10 run to Super Bowl 44). I’ll also special mention the 2006 Monday Night Football game against the Falcons that reopened the Superdome. It was a great game and will be forever etched in my mind, but it’s akin to putting the Super Bowl there — it’s got too much going for it to let any others get in.
With all of that preamble, here are my five favorite Saints games of the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era.
Number 5: 10/04/2009 vs New York Jets. Final Score: 24-10. I don’t know if y’all remember that 09 season (rhetorical question of course) but after winning against the Lions, Eagles and Bills, there was a lot of expectations in regards to the back-to-back games the Saints would have against the equally-unbeaten Jets and Giants. Time to prove if the Saints were for real. What is tough to recall is that the offense didn’t record its first touchdown until 6 minutes were left in the game via a Pierre Thomas 1-yd run. What really separated the two teams was the Saints defense. The big difference were a couple of interceptions from Darren Sharper, including a 99-yd pick-six, and the signature play: Will Smith’s strip-sack of Mark Sanchez with Remi Ayodele falling on the ball in the endzone. After this game, I recall thinking “this team is a contender.”
Number 4: 10/23/2011 vs Indianapolis Colts. Final Score: 62-7. I was at this game back when I worked at the Dome during my grad school days. Normally, you just want a good game but with the Peyton Manning-less Colts coming into town, I was hoping for a good win. (Good wins mean fans start leaving early to keep partying outside. That means you get to go home sooner). I don’t think anyone expected what we got. Drew Brees going 31 of 35, 325 yds and 5 TDs. Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles rushing for 236 yards. Cam Jordan and Jonathan Vilma each recovering a fumble. Setting a team record for most points put on an opponent was one way to send fans home happy. Look, anyone who’s ever played Madden has, at one point or another, turned it to the easiest setting to see what that would be like. This was the only time I can recall ever seeing that happening in real life.
Number 3: 11/01/2015 vs New York Giants. Final Score: 52-49. If there’s one thing that has defined the Saints under Payton/Brees is their passing offense. It’s Drew Brees lobbing bombs to everyone from Marques Colston to Jimmy Graham and picking apart defenses with surgical precision. Usually when they’re on, opponents wither. This was a rare instance when the Giants swung back, blow for blow, until the very end. Drew Brees throws for 511 yds and 7 TDs? Eli Manning goes for 350 yds and 6 TDs. Odell Beckham Jr grabs 3 TDs? Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead get 2 each. It was an insane game where whoever got the ball last was going to win. Good thing it was the Saints who finally edged it out thanks to a Kai Forbath FG at the end.
Number 2: 11/19/2017 vs Washington Redskins. Final Score: 34-31. There were many games I could have picked for the “Saints pull victory out of jaws of defeat” choice. There’s the one-two punch of the 2009 Dolphins-Redskins games or last year’s furious comeback against the Chargers. But given it’s the game freshest in my mind, I had to favor this one. Besides, this was a game that was all but done. Less than 5 minutes and down 15? In a game in which Washington’s defense has all but clamped down on the Saints’ offense while the Redskins have moved the ball at will? After Washington made it 31-16 with 5:58 left, the Saints went in 2 drives of 13 plays that took 4:10 to tie the game. They even punted the ball, forced a massive 3-and-out in order to get the ball and get the touchdown that would bring them within 2. Once the game was tied, I don’t think anyone believed it would end any other way than a Who Dat win. I love that this is something the Saints do now after many years of being on other end.
Number 1: 11/12/2009 vs New England Patriots. Final Score: 38-17. You know how I said the Jets/Giants combo in 09 was the time for the Saints to prove themselves? I think this is the game where the idea of a Super Bowl title really crystallized in my mind as a possibility. And why not? Monday Night Football against the best team of the decade and they were completely beaten off the field that night. It’s more than the 371 yds and 5 TDs Drew Brees threw. It’s more than Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell running for a combined 114 yds. It’s Devery Henderson finding himself completely open for Brees to throw him one of those TDs. It was Sedrick Ellis, Darren Sharper and Mike McKenzie (right off the street) coming through with key turnovers to stymie the NFL’s #2 offense at that point. It was forcing Bill Bellichick to say uncle and pull Tom Brady halfway through the fourth quarter. The Saints have had fewer outings better than this one.
But you know, what prompted this was that silly run-first game the Saints had at Buffalo. So there’s every possibility that there’s more, better and crazier games could be in our immediate horizon. I’m just glad this season has been fun and exciting. That’s all you really can hope to ask from year to year. Here’s hoping the next 6+ games are just as good! WHO DAT!