Luke Johnson, Lafayette Daily Advertiser
Published 10:53 p.m. ET Sept. 9, 2019
SportsPulse: Our first NFL Sunday is in the books and put to bed many offseason narratives and confirmed others. As Trysta Krick details, this Patriots team could be perfect.
USA TODAYNEW ORLEANS — In the weeks running up to Monday night’s season opener against the Houston Texans, the New Orleans Saints’ rallying cry was that it was a new year, a new team. The focus would be completely on the road in front of the team, not back on the painful way last season ended. And yet, here it was at the start of the fourth quarter, feeling an awful lot like 2018. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Drew Brees gave the Saints their first lead of the night with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Tre’Quan Smith.The fans in the stands, many of whom were making pointed references to that fateful 2018 finish by wearing referee costumes, went delirious. Demario Davis vibed on the sideline as the stadium speakers blared the team’s 2018 anthem, “Choppa Style.” And then, after that familiar sinking feeling of 2018 seemed to return when the Saints lost a lead in the final minute on an unbelievable two-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took a mere 13 seconds off the clock.But Wil Lutz reminded everyone that it truly was a new year. The Saints took possession with 37 seconds remaining in the game, used 36 of those seconds to drive to the Texans’ 40-yard line, and put Lutz on the field to attempt a winning kick. His low-flying line drive cleared the uprights with room, giving the Saints a walk-off 30-28 win. New Orleans had rallied back from a 21-10 third quarter deficit, taking the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter and adding to it with a 47-yard Lutz field goal with 50 seconds remaining in the game, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson led a remarkable two-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to take the lead back in a mere 13 seconds. With an over-the-shoulder dime to DeAndre Hopkins for a 38-yard gain followed by a 37-yard bullet to former Saint Kenny Stills over the middle of the field, the Texans, in the blink of an eye, snatched the lead out of New Orleans hands. But Brees connected on each of his next three passes to Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn for gains of 15, 11 and nine yards, putting Lutz in position to win it. The stars came to play on this night. Brees bounced back from a bad early interception to finish the night with 370 yards and a 105.8 passer rating. Alvin Kamara, in his first game as the undisputed head of the Saints backfield, put on a dazzling display with 169 all-purpose yards on 20 touches. Michael Thomas caught nine passes for 112 yards. The earliest moments of the season opener felt like a countdown to eruption. The fans in the building seemed to be channeling the heartache of last season’s end through their diaphragm, keeping a steady, rumbling roar going throughout the first quarter. The Saints defense ramped up the anticipation by smothering the Texans the first two series, delivering some punishing blows to quarterback Watson while limiting Houston to just 15 net yards on its first two drives. Brees and the rest of the New Orleans offense seemed poised to light the fuse late in the first quarter, driving deep into Texans territory. Then, in an instant, the first half flipped on its heels. As Brees scrambled near the Houston goal line, running back Latavius Murray broke free behind the Texans defense. But Brees did not get enough air on the ball as he tried to lob it over linebacker Whitney Mercilus, and the Texans linebacker picked the pass off at the 6-yard line. The energy that felt like it was building toward a crescendo washed away as Houston followed the interception with a seven-play, 94-yard touchdown drive, keyed by Will Fuller’s brilliant adjustment on an underthrown ball to make a contested catch over Eli Apple for a 54-yard gain on the first play of the drive. After the next Saints drive stalled again in the red zone, resulting in a Wil Lutz field goal, the Texans again sucked the air out of the building with a methodical 16-play scoring march, a sequence that ended with Watson finding superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for the first of their two touchdowns. AutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext Slide
Luke Johnson, Lafayette Daily Advertiser