Take a breath football fans. If you didn’t watch the game live, this writer can only hope you had your DVR set. Or, however you choose to watch your football, make it a priority to get this on a screen near you.
The first game of the double MNF slate will not be forgotten for a while. At half time, we were left wondering what had happened to the high powered Saints offence we grew accustomed to last year.
With just the three points on the board, head coach Sean Payton definitely would have delivered some strong words in the locker room at the interval. Come the second half, New Orleans added 27 points to secure 30-27 victory. But that does not tell the full story, not by a long stretch. Let’s tuck in and see why the majority of the NFL world had to pick up their jaws from the ground.
Deshaun Watson heroics
Despite being on the losing end of the battle, Watson showcased his supreme talent for the prime-time audience. With a full quota of receivers at his disposal, it didn’t take long for him to start dealing dimes. He unleashed a delectable 54-yard pass to Will Fuller from the Texans own 6-yard line, which led to the first touchdown of the game.
It needn’t been this difficult for Watson to score, some poor game management from Bill O’Brien seemed likely to cost a scoring chance. With no shortage of critics for his general manager antics, he escaped possible further criticism due to his quarterback’s sharp minded play. Prior to the TD, BoB called a timeout before the snap and then during this stoppage, challenged the spot of the ball. The original spot would have meant a 4th and 1 for Texans in field goal range, but O’Brien got greedy, went reaching for the 1st down and burnt two timeouts.
Leaving the offence on the field on 4th down, Watson kept the ball himself and went off on a 21-yard scarper for the TD. Not how it was drawn up, but they all count. Certainly a case here of a quarterback sparing the blushes of his HC.
A trip to the medical tent was required for DW4 after this score. The medical staff took a long look at his back, after he landed awkwardly diving for the endzone. It wasn’t deemed serious enough for Watson to miss any snaps, however he was seen receiving constant massages on the sideline when the Texans D was on the field.
The incredible and dynamic play of Watson continued throughout the contest. Even when the game looked lost, he delivered two spectacular passes to DeAndre Hopkins and then to Kenny Stills, who caught the TD pass, to give the Texans a 28-27 lead in the dying embers of the game. However, it wasn’t to be and there was enough frailties on this Texans team to put them at 0-1 to open the season.
Texans D falters after bright start, O-line still struggles
There were early signs of promise after a strong start for the Houston D. The linebackers of the Texans put constant pressure on Drew Brees and forced him into errors. This was made clear when Brees threw a pick into the grateful arms of Whitney Mercilus, his first career redzone interception. Middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney also came up with a mega stop on a 3rd down when the Saints looked a good bet to level the game. Instead, they had to settle for a field goal to make it 7-3. Their only points in the first half.
When the 2nd half rolled around, it looked like a completely different unit had taken to the field. Whether the Texans defence had lost their way or the Saints offence finally realised its identity, it was a completely different story. Defensive end superstar JJ Watt was completely anonymous. With Jadeveon Clowney no longer in the building, it meant constant double teaming on Watt which fully shut him out of the game. Strong play from the Saints o-line here. Which is more than can be said for their counterparts.
Even with the addition of Laremy Tunsil to the Houston o-line, major struggles remain. Tunsil was asleep when the Miami Dolphins traded him away, he had to be awoken by his brother when the news broke. He looked asleep on the field for a couple of plays, despite probably being the best lineman the Texans currently possess.
Watson was sacked six times on the night, a worrying trend if its continues. With the punchy Jaguars D next on the slate, it may get uglier still. RT Seantrel Henderson was called for holding three times and rookie 1st rounder Tytus Howard was a healthy scratch. Look for a possible swap between this pair for week 2.
Saints find the right formula, eventually…
New Orleans came out of the traps aggressively, constantly looking to force the pass and neglecting the run game. It took a bit time for them to realise this perhaps wasn’t the best way to go. Instead, they would be better off saving the arm of Drew Brees for later in the game. And boy did they need it.
Once the cobwebs of the first half had been dusted away, Brees came alive. We started seeing a lot more audible calls when he spotted favourable coverage. Michael Thomas was constantly getting free in man to man, which allowed the Saints to move the ball with constant ease in the 2nd half. A big reason why they chalked up 27 points in the 3rd and 4th quarters. Thomas recorded 125 receptions last season, enough to lead the league. Don’t rule out him achieving this feat in back to back years. The Brees/Thomas connection looks as healthy as ever.
To open the 2nd half, the focus was fully on the running backs of the Saints. Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray traded blows, with the latter busting off a 30-yard TD run on the first drive of the half to open the Saints touchdown account. Kamara picked up a first down on 32% of his plays last season, expect a similar figure again. He looked to be fighting off tackles with ease with his somewhat surprising 215 pound frame. His contact balance skill might just be the best in the league.
Run established, points follow
With the Texans evidently struggling to contain the potent duo of Murray and Kamara, this allowed the Saints to open up the playbook. This was made no more apparent when Swiss army knife extraordinaire Taysom Hill came up with the catch for the Saints 2nd TD of the night. Hill checked in at QB sparingly, running some read option plays, but he proved most effective lining up as receiver in this QB to QB connection play. This came on the Saints 2nd drive of the half, meaning the first two drives brought maximum points. By this point however, New Orleans were still down 21-16.
The 3rd TD came on the, you guessed it, 3rd drive for the Saints. This can be largely contributed to pair of errors by a usual dependable duo of the Texans. Watson sent a long ball into double coverage that looked like an interception waiting to happen. On the consequent return, Deandre Hopkins inexplicably body-slammed the Saints defender who came up with the pick, which tabbed on an extra 15 yards to the play. All this meaning that Brees led the offence from the Texans 49 yard line and in the end found Tre’Quan Smith for 6. By now, the Saints were up for the first time in the game, by 24-21.
These three drives gave the New Orleans Saints life. Not to mention, causing the home fans in the Superdome to make some deafening noise. But the biggest cheer was still to come. After Wil Lutz kicked a 47-yard field goal to make it 27-21 in their favour, it seemed to secure the W for the Saints. However, the Texans QB Deshaun Watson wasn’t giving up without a fight. His previously highlighted incredible play gave the Texans a late lead, meaning the Saints had very little time to find a game clinching field goal.
58 yards to glory
With just the one timeout in his pocket, the wise head on Drew Brees’ shoulders proved pivotal. He moved the ball down the field with expert precision, with the game clock clearly not on his side. The defence of the Texans couldn’t come up with the crucial stop that would have ended the game and given them a huge road win. Instead, the fate of the game fell to the boot of Saints kicker Lutz. Having been successful on his previous field goal attempt that looked to the secure the win for the Saints, he was called upon again in a big spot.
His previous career long was 57 yards. This extra yard proved to be little extra challenge. As the last play of the game made the game 30-27 in the Saints favour. Cue massive celebrations on both the field and in the stands.
For those in the stadium, they will not forget that kick in a hurry. Those watching on the TV will have watched the replay at least five times, unless you are of a Houston Texans persuasion that is.