NEW ORLEANS - Sean Payton was back in the building, and the New Orleans Saints remembered how to win again.
However, Payton's presence has nothing to do with why the Saints found a way to take home their first win of the regular season in four tries.
On the night that Drew Brees broke the record for consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass (48, surpassing Johnny Unitas' 52-year old mark), Payton was allowed to watch his team in a suite along with the suspended compatriots Mickey Loomis and Joe Vitt. But it was the group of players and coaches who are still in the game who deserve credit for the resilience of a group which could have gotten down on themselves and let the season completely slip away.
Strategy and will to win finally converged in prime time as the Sunday Night Football audience were given good show.
Here are are some quick takes from the Dome after New Orleans' much-needed 31-24 win over the San Diego Chargers:
• First and foremost, one play saved the Saints' season. If there is any kind of big turnaround to come, it started with one call going the Saints' way when it was needed most. The Chargers appeared to have gone ahead 31-14 on an interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Demorrio Williams. However, Melvin Ingram's led with his helmet when striking Brees on the ill-advised throw to draw a roughing-the-passer flag. It extended what wound up to be an 87-yard scoring drive to narrow the lead to 24-21. Without the call, the Saints would be 0-5.
• The Dome crowd was the loudest it has been all season, clearly fueled by a primetime game, the chance for Brees to make history and an early three-and-out by the Saints defense.
• Safety Malcolm Jenkins knocked the ball away from former Saints and current Chargers wide receiver Robert Meachem after his first-quarter touchdown catch. He got flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Chargers wide receiver Eddie Royal shoved Jenkins after that, but there was no second flag.
• Saints' opponents came in having scored in 15 of 16 quarters and one overtime period. The Chargers made that 16 of 17 on the Rivers-to-Meachem touchdown pass.
• Even in his role as a deep threat, Devery Henderson seemed one of the more unlikely candidates to catch the record-breaking TD pass from Drew Brees. Henderson had only caught Brees' first TD pass of the game during the streak on two other occasions – the 2010 Thursday night season opener vs. Minnesota and last season vs. Chicago.
• Thankfully, Green Bay didn't try to run the ball much last week, or this would be five weeks in a row the Saints run defense has gotten gashed.
• Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper may not be getting interceptions often, but they combined for a four-point play with their defense on second-and-goal and third-and-goal, respectively (although Jenkins' play was more a Meachem drop than a pass defensed). The Chargers had to settle for a field goal and a 10-7 lead. The duo later combined in the fourth quarter (Jenkins deflection leads to Harper interception). It is rare when both players are this productive in the same game.
• The last time Roman Harper made an interception, Reggie Bush was still wearing black and gold. If you're counting, it was 106 weeks since Harper's last pick before Sunday night.
• Without Lance Moore and with a gimpy Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and Devery Henderson needed to step up, and they did. Each had at least eight receptions, 120 yards and a touchdown – the first time in Saints history that two receivers topped those marks in one game.
• Colston moved ahead of Joe Horn and now alone atop the Saints list for career TD catches (51) and is also third all-time in touchdowns behind Deuce McAllister and Dalton Hilliard.
• Martez Wilson was nailed with a hands-to-the-face penalty on a second-and-37 on the Chargers' final drive, setting him up to be a potential goat. But he more than redeemed himself with the strip sack and recovery of Philip Rivers.
• Creativity was the ticket for Saints DC Steve Spagnuolo to finally generate some pass rush with his unit. Different looks and occasional three-man fronts helped create havoc at times for the San Diego line. But better downfield coverage in the second half by a much-maligned secondary was evident and even more impressive considering the groin injury which took Jabari Greer, the best New Orleans cornerback, out of the lineup.
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