The New Orleans Saints have won three games in a row and have shown an ability to win in a variety of ways.
Their 52-38 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome wasn't a Drew Brees-led shootout as one might suspect. The point output was more a result of a big-play defense, which scored three touchdowns for the first time in franchise history and forced two more turnovers, one of which led to another touchdown.
The defense had three interceptions for the second time in three games and also made five sacks.
"It's not just about getting the ball carrier down or the quarterback down," defensive end Alex Okafor said Monday. "When we get to them, we're getting fumbles and turnovers and that's been a big difference."
On Detroit's first possession, Okafor sacked Matthew Stafford, who fumbled, and safety Kenny Vaccaro fell on the football in the end zone for a touchdown.
"The defense is jelling," said defensive end Cam Jordan, whose interception of a Stafford pass in the Lions' end zone sealed the victory. "The way we're running to the ball and the way we're making turnovers happen, which is highly successful, hopefully keeps rolling into next week and the weeks beyond."
New Orleans, which visits Green Bay on Sunday, is the only NFL team this season to win three consecutive games by at least two touchdowns.
Against Detroit, the Saints' offense struggled with three turnovers, one of which was a pick six, but Brees also had two touchdowns and Mark Ingram II ran for two touchdowns. All three turnovers came during a second half in which Detroit cut a 45-10 deficit to 45-38.
DIS AND DAT
The law of averages caught up with the Saints as their turnover-free streak to start the season ended. New Orleans was just the third NFL team since 1933 to go without committing a turnover in its first four games of the season.
The Saints had their most productive rushing game of the season in their first game after trading Adrian Peterson to Arizona. Peterson had a big game in his debut with the Cardinals, but Mark Ingram II and Alvin Kamara both benefited from additional opportunities in Peterson's absence. Ingram had a season-high 25 carries for 114 yards and two touchdowns, and Kamara averaged 7.5 yards on 10 carries in addition to catching four passes for 12 yards.
The Saints won despite converting just 2 of 12 third downs (16.7 percent). They entered the game Sunday having converted 41.7 percent of their third downs.
T Terron Armstead played 90 percent of the offensive snaps in his first action since undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. He started at left tackle and helped the Saints build a 45-10 lead in the third quarter. He was replaced by G Senio Kelemete as Andrus Peat moved from guard to tackle. The Saints tried to limit the number of reps Armstead had, but he returned after the offense went stagnant and Detroit got within two touchdowns early in the fourth quarter. Head coach Sean Payton said the plan for giving Armstead a brief break was pre-determined.
WR Willie Snead IV made his season debut after being suspended for the first three games of the season and missing the fourth game because of a hamstring injury. Snead caught one pass for 11 yards, converting a third-and-10 during a touchdown drive that gave New Orleans a 17-7 lead. But he played just 30 percent of the offensive snaps and was targeted just three times.
REPORT CARD VS. LIONS
PASSING OFFENSE: D-plus -- Drew Brees had one of his poorest performances in a game that the Saints won. He passed for just 186 yards -- ending a streak of 55 consecutive games with at least 200 passing yards -- and threw two interceptions. The second interception was returned 2 yards for a touchdown.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus -- The Saints had their largest rushing total of the season (193) and Mark Ingram II had the first 100-yard game by an individual. Alvin Kamara averaged 7.5 yards and the team averaged 5.2. The one blemish on the performance was a lost fumble by Ingram.
PASS DEFENSE: A-minus -- The Saints held Matthew Stafford to less than a 50 percent completion rate (25 of 52), sacked him five times (recovering two fumbles, one for a touchdown) and had three interceptions, two of which went for touchdowns. The big plays mitigated the fact that Stafford passed for nearly 100 yards more than his average and several missed tackles allowed short completions to turn into longer gainers.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- New Orleans rolled to a 31-10 halftime lead, which limited Detroit's use of the running game for much of the second half. The Lions rushed for 66 yards on 19 carries, including 9 yards on seven carries in the second half.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- The Saints allowed a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown, Wil Lutz knocked a kickoff out of bounds that jump-started a drive that nearly yielded a touchdown right before halftime and there were several special-teams penalties. This could have been an F except Thomas Morstead averaged 49.1 yards on seven punts, two of which were downed just outside the Lions goal line, leading to defensive touchdowns.
COACHING: A-minus - The Saints had a good plan to establish the run and offensive balance early as well as get after Stafford. The special-teams' blunders hurt as did offensive stagnation that seemed to result in part from the Saints losing their aggressiveness and edge.
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