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Saints getting creative while living on razor’s edge

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The Sports Xchange

NEW ORLEANS — Even with two wins in their past three games, including an encouraging 31-21 beating of the previously-undefeated Atlanta Falcons in their most recent outing on Oct. 15, the New Orleans Saints needed another big win Sunday.

Saints coach Sean Payton knew that after an 0-3 start, his team had to start putting a winning streak together to make something of a season that was on the way to running off the tracks.

So Payton did what he does best in those situations: He started pulling out all the stops on offense and special teams Sunday to jump-start his team’s important 27-21 road win over the Indianapolis Colts.

Payton became more aggressive with his play-calling from the start, then called for a fake field-goal attempt that resulted in a 25-yard pass from backup quarterback Luke McCown to Benjamin Watson which led to a touchdown and a 14-0 lead en route to a 27-0 advantage early in the third period.

That the Saints (3-4) had to hold on at the end after Delvin Breaux fell down twice in coverage to help T.Y. Hilton shake free for touchdown catches of 87 and 46 yards late in the third quarter and made it a game was of little consequence when it was all over.

Early on, the fake field goal was the one that rocked the Colts (3-4).

One week after Indianapolis botched a fake punt in a loss to the New England Patriots, Payton hit the Colts where it hurts with a play called “Bulldog” in honor of McCown, who played his college football for the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, and Watson, a former standout for the Georgia Bulldogs.

Their 25-yard hookup set up a 1-yard blast by running back Khiry Robinson for a 14-0 lead, and the Saints were energized for the rest of the afternoon.

“That’s our team,” McCown said later. “That’s the mantra of Sean Payton and Drew Brees.”

It certainly couldn’t have come at a better time with the Saints staring at a 2-5 record if they had lost Sunday.

“You look at our first three losses, and we’re a play here or a play there from winning them,” McCown said. “Mentally we didn’t go in the tank. You’re 0-3, but you start looking at what you can do to change a few plays to help you win.”

REPORT CARD VS. COLTS:

–PASSING OFFENSE: B. The Saints weren’t as efficient as they normally are in the passing game in their victory over the Colts. Drew Brees completed 28 of 44 attempts for 255 yards with one touchdown and one interception and he was sacked twice for 14 yards. Brees, who had a long of 47 yards, finished with a 77.4 passer rating. Backup Luke McCown added another completion to the Saints’ total with a 25-yard pass to Benjamin Watson off a fake field-goal attempt that led to a touchdown. Brandin Cooks caught six passes for 81 yards, while Watson gained 59 yards on four receptions. Marques Colston had only one catch for 20 yards, but it came at a crucial time on third down at the two-minute mark and helped the Saints run out the clock.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: A-plus. Even though they went into the game ranked 31st in the league is rushing, the Saints’ offensive line opened up big holes that helped produce a season-high 183 yards and 5.1 average on 36 attempts. Mark Ingram, who only 307 yards in the first six games, busted out for 143 yards on 14 attempts with a 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Ingram, whose longest run this season was 17 yards going into the contest, had a 44-yard gallop in the second quarter and added runs of 35 and 17 yards on the drive that set up his touchdown. Khiry Robinson had 28 yards on 14 carries and touchdown runs of 1 and 6 yards in the opening period. C.J. Spiller picked up 16 yards on four attempts with a long of 9 yards.

–PASS DEFENSE: B. With the exception of two plays on which Delvin Breaux fell, allowing Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton to score touchdowns on receptions of 87 and 46 yards on consecutive drives late in the third quarter, the Saints were superb with their pass rush up front against Andrew Luck and coverage down the field. Luck wound up throwing for 333 yards in going 23-of-44, but he was frustrated early and often by the Saints’ mixing of their man-to-man and zone coverages. He had only 100 passing yards when he found Hilton for their first touchdown and had been sacked four times — including twice by defensive end Cameron Jordan — and intercepted by linebacker Stephone Anthony and cornerback Kyle Wilson.

–RUN DEFENSE: C. The Saints did a nice job on Frank Gore for the most part, although the Colts had to all but abandon the running game after falling behind 27-0 early in the third period. Gore and Luck had long gains of 14 and 16 yards, respectively, but the Colts did little outside of that. They gained 45 yards on their other 11 carries and wound up with 75 yards and a 5.8 average on 13 total attempts.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B. The grade easily could have been an A with the fake field-goal attempt Sean Payton called, which had holder Luke McCown hit Watson with a 25-yard pass that set up his team’s second touchdown and a 14-0 lead in the first period and a forced fumble on a punt return by the Colts which the Saints’ offense turned into a touchdown. Thomas Morstead, in his first game back after missing two weeks with a strained quadriceps, was also stellar in averaging 48.7 gross yards and 42.9 net yards on a career-high 10 punts — dropping five of them inside the 20 with a long of 58. But there were some hiccups as the Saints missed an extra-point attempt on a poor snap by Justin Drescher and committed six special teams penalties — including two for fair catch interference although one was offset by a penalty on the Colts.

–COACHING: A. Just when everyone thought his team was dead in the water with an 0-3 start, Payton brought them back with three wins in the past four games after Sunday’s road victory over the Colts. His aggressive nature paid off on offense and he even added a fake field goal to special teams that resulted in a touchdown instead of a three-pointer. Payton’s team has played well in the past month with the exception of that 39-17 stinker against the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 11.


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