What If... London Fletcher and DeJon Gomes Hadn't Stepped Up in Big Moments?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistSeptember 12, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 09:   DeJon Gomes #24 of the Washington Redskins intercepts a ball over  Lance Moore #16 of the New Orleans Saints  during the season opener at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 9, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Redskins defeated the Saints 40-32.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

I'm showing you this in a final look back at the Redskins-Saints game Sunday in an effort to emphasize that a game can be won or lost in an instant. And many of the factors that go into that moment are beyond your team's control.

Midway through the third quarter, Washington led New Orleans by 16 points and was dominating in all aspects of the game. But the Saints marched down the field on a long, deliberate drive, and you felt the momentum beginning to sway. 

On the 11th and final play of that series, on the Washington 3-yard line, the Saints faced a 3rd-and-goal with a chance to cut the lead in half. The Saints ran a screen to Darren Sproles—the kind of play they run all the time, and almost always with success.

In that shot, London Fletcher's in blue. His job is to watch, read and react. He's a 42-year veteran (or something like that), and he watches a lot of tape. Look where he is as the snap is being made, not leaning or presenting a tell.

But as soon as Brees drops back and it's obvious there won't be any progressions, Fletcher is already in a full sprint to that right flat.

And he's there to make the tackle, breaking up the pass in the process and forcing a field goal. 

Had he been a split-second later, it would have been a 10-point game with a potential two-point conversion to move New Orleans to within a touchdown with a full quarter to play at home and all the momentum. Instead, he took down the slippery Sproles after getting the best of one of the league's top quarterbacks in a mind game. 

Look at how open Sproles appears to be as Brees settles out of the play-action fake. Fletcher is beelining through the defense, but he's not even in the picture until Brees has locked in.

That's a great player making a game-changing play. Without it, the Saints might have been less pressed in the final quarter and less prone to making mistakes, like the one Brees made to seal the game. 

Speaking of that mistake, let's take a second look at the Brees interception to DeJon Gomes on a drive that could have tied the game with less than four minutes to play. Brees wasn't pressured at all on a 1st-and-10 from his own 27-yard line, but he threw a pass that completely sailed away from intended target Lance Moore, who appeared to be fairly well-covered anyway.

Gomes came over the top to make the interception and brought it all the way back to the 3-yard line, setting up a Washington touchdown and pretty much locking up the game. 

Moore appears to be breaking open here, but both safeties are lurking just outside of the shot. It's a very, very tight window and an unnecessary throw on first down with plenty of time on the clock in a one-score game.

He overthrows Moore, and it's an easy play for Gomes.

Of course, easier said than done. The Redskins dropped a comical amount of interceptions last season and throughout this preseason. This was one of those moments where they needed a defensive player to capitalize on a quarterback's mistake, and it actually came to fruition. Gomes deserves credit for rising to the occasion. 

Brees wasn't good Sunday, but that was the only critical mistake he made, and the 'Skins made him pay. What's more, it had nothing to do with the pass rush. That's a great sign.

What if those plays don't happen? We know for sure that the Saints would've scored if not for the Fletcher breakup, but it's obviously impossible to know what would've gone down had Brees not thrown that interception to Gomes. 

But the Saints had scored on two of their three possessions in the half, and both probably should've been touchdown drives. Had they scored and gotten the conversion the first time, it would've changed the ensuing series of events, but indulge me: Pretend they were able to cut the lead to eight there and the scoring went as expected until the Gomes interception.

If that were the case, the Saints would've only trailed by a field goal there, and Brees might not have thrown such a pass. And without that pick, the 'Skins might not have padded their lead with seven more points—they had actually gone three-and-out their last two series and hadn't scored a touchdown in five possessions. 

In other words, there's a good chance Brees and the Saints would have been driving with a chance to win the game late, rather than desperately trying to hang in.

That's the difference that can come from one great read from a linebacker and one stray throw capitalized on by a safety. 

Two game-altering players, and neither had anything to do with the Washington pass rush we hear so much about. Maybe there's more to this defense after all.