The Saints entered the Redskins reservation on Sunday bringing with them one question: Would they leave a congregation of Who Dat Nation converts in their wake or would they fall like Custer at Little Big Horn, leaving a stunned America wagging their finger and shaking their head?
There can be no doubt which ending the Redskins and their fans, The Hog Nation, had in mind. Their war-paint was on, their war bonnets donned, and their pig noses flared with determination to paint the warpath with Black & Gold.
By the end of the first quarter, it was evident Chief Jim Zorn had prepared his tribe to do just that. In a season that has seen little to cheer for, the Redskins could at least boast of a highly-ranked defense and a team with a reputation for fighting to the last brave.
The Saints usually-potent offense looked flustered and frustrated by the Redskin resistance. Their first two possessions netted just 28 yards in seven total plays and both ended with the Saints punting.
The 'Skins D was living up to its rep. Little did anyone suspect that the 'Skins offense had also become a force to be reckoned with.
Aided by 47 penalty yards from New Orleans, Washington completed a run-heavy, 95-yard drive for a touchdown on their first possession, though it was Jason 'Little Chief' Campbell's nice passing that gained most of the yards and achieved the touchdown, an 8-yard tomahawk to tight-end Fred 'Fills-In-For-Cooley' Davis.
After a Saints 3-and-out, Campbell was effective again, going 4 for 7 and 44 yards on a 57-yard drive for a field goal to end the period with a 10-0 lead. Hog Nation squealed with approval.
But, the Saints hadn't achieved an undefeated record for nothing. In the second quarter, they finally got on the scoreboard with a dink-and-dunk, 12-play, 50-yard drive that ended with a field goal by squire Garrett Hartley, who was starting his first game after spending the first 11 games in King Sean Payton's dungeon for crimes against the Crown.
Following three straight rushes and a punt by the Redskins, the Saints marched 87 yards in just 9 plays, culminating in an impressive, Hog-silencing 40-yard touchdown catapult from Prince Drew Brees to Sir Marques Colston to tie the score.
Following a nice kickoff return of 21 yards by Devin 'Two-Hats' Thomas, the Redskins decided to go back to what got them their first touchdown.
Abandoning the run this time, 'Little Chief' Campbell summoned the Wind Spirits, tossing 7 for 9 for 78 yards on a touchdown drive that included an impressive 38-yard arrow to Santana 'Running Rabbit' Moss down the right sideline, then Thomas took a five-yard catch into the endzone.
The Hogs were happy again, if for only but a moment. On the Saints' following drive, it seemed they conjured a spirit of their own. That's when things got interesting.
Following the kickoff return, Lord Reggie Bush gained a nice 9 yards on first down which turned into 2nd and 1 and then into 3rd and 1 and, finally, into 4th and 1. It seemed the Saints' spell hadn't worked.
At least, it seemed that way to those watching from the stands, especially when usually dependable squire Thomas Morestead, New Orleans' late-round draft pick, punted a sandbag that fell well short of its goal.
An unexpecting rookie, Redskin brave Kevin 'Ducking Bear' Barnes, tried to dodge the falling thud-bomb only to have it strike him in the back. The wily and opportunistic Sir Usama the Young dove on the now-live and loose piglet, claiming it for the Saints.
That's when 'interesting' turned into downright crazy. That's when the Wind Spirit and the Spirit of New Orleans decided to slug it out.
After Washington committed a five-yard penalty, one of only two it would commit all day, Lord Reggie caught a screen pass from Prince Drew for 8 yards giving the Saints another 1st down.
Prince Drew threw an incompletion and then New Orleans committed its own 5-yard infraction to stretch the sticks to 2nd and 15.
Washington's LaRon 'Stalking Shadow' Landry blitzed into the backfield sacking Prince Drew like Braveheart sacked York and gave the Saints a 3rd and 26 at the Washington 44 yard line. The Wind Spirit was prevailing.
The ball was snapped. Avoiding the rush, Prince Drew scrambled backward, valiantly stiff-arming a tilting red-helmeted behemoth to the ground before finally heaving the ball downfield in desperation.
The misguided missle intended for Lord Jeremy Shockey was snatched from before him by the cunning Kareem 'Covers-Like-Blanket' Moore. The Hog Nation went wild. The Wind Spirit had delivered another crushing blow. The Spirit of New Orleans was down, it seemed, but not yet out.
Moore rolled and then sprang to his feet. He found blockers and began following them, weaving his way across the field looking for an opening.
Near the far sideline, he was met by Sir Robert Meachem who was determined to end Moore's gallop. Not only that, but take back what he felt rightly belonged to the Saints.
Sir Robert seized Moore and as he hurled him to the ground, he stripped the ball away from him. The ball fluttered in the air for only a half second before Sir Robert snatched it, tucked it, and raced down the sideline.
The Hogs began squealing again, but this time their ruckus was one of disbelief and astonishment as they watched Sir Robert streak into the endzone for an amazing and improbable score.
With only 22 seconds left in the first half, there was little the Redskins could do to respond. The Spirit of New Orleans had won the round with a surprise TKO and left the teams tied at 17.
The third quarter was nearly a carbon-copy of the first as Washington again built a methodical 10-point lead.
Both teams had to depend on the passing of their quarterbacks to provide yardage and points. The Saints managed but a field goal and entered the fourth quarter trailing by seven.
In the final period, the Redskins tried to pad their lead, kicking another field goal. But, the Saints would not go away, responding with a field goal of their own.
Defensively, the teams were struggling with coverage in the secondary, the Saints ills mostly due to injuries to starters Tracy Porter, Jabari Greer, and Randall Gay.
Offensively, aside from a short burst here and there, they were largely unsuccessful running the ball, both teams finishing the game with less than 100 yards rushing.
There was only 6:52 left in the game when Washington began a drive that would eat four minutes off the clock. With less than three minutes to play, they were poised on the Saints 4-yard line with 1st and goal to go.
After 40 game seconds and three straight rushes by Rock 'Jukes-Like-Box' Cartwright, it was fourth down and the 'Skins were still on the Saints 4.
The field goal unit trotted onto the battlefield to give Washington their usual ten-point lead and the Saints little time, this time, to catch up. That's when the unthinkable occurred.
I have no explanation for why Sean 'Scores-With-Foot' Suisham would miss a chip shot field goal, but that is what happened.
The kick sailed wide right and somewhere the ghost of General Custer was heard laughing. No worries. The Saints still needed a touchdown to tie the game and there was only 1:52 left.
For the Spirit of New Orleans, however, that's an eternity.
The Saints took possession at their own 13 yard line. Five plays and 33 seconds later, Prince Drew threaded tight coverage with a dart that hit Sir Robert Meachem right in the chest at the goal line.
After the PAT and kickoff, with the game tied again and the Washington Redskins and all of Hog Nation in shock, Sir Jonathan Vilma intercepted Jason Campbell before he could get his team in field goal range and the clock ran out.
The Spirit of New Orleans, in its mercy, gave the Redskins one last chance when the Saints player called 'tails' on the coin toss and it came up 'heads'. The 'Skins would get the ball...and one...last...shot.
Starting from their own 20, Little Chief and the Redskins went to work. The plan: just stay cool and drive down the field like they'd done all day. First down; ten yard pass to Moss. 2nd down; handoff to Quinton Ganther for six yards. Stay calm, cool, focused.
Third down; short pass to Mike Sellers for no gain, .... no... wait! .... it's a fumble!! NOOOOOOO!!!!
Or was it? There are those on both sides who will think so and there are those on both sides who think not. I don't know. I saw the replay, but I'm not a referee. I didn't get to see all the angles.
When Sellers was upended, the ball came loose. Was his elbow down before that? I don't know and, no matter what you claim, neither do you.
Taking over at Washington's 37 yard line, Prince Brees and his army marched 36 yards to the Washington 1 before they decided it was safe to kick the field goal. That right there shows you how important this game was to the Saints and how much they respected the opponent they just played.
They weren't willing to leave anything to chance; they knew that they could not afford to miss, lest the Redskins have another chance to strike like they had done all day.
The Saints have never in their 43-year history been 12-0. As a life-long fan, it feels good, I won't deny that.
But, wins like this show you just how much you have to be thankful for. They show you just how much of a price you have to pay to be a champion.
Washington was 3 and 8 with no chance of making the playoffs, yet they played their hearts out and almost knocked off the top team in the conference today.
Games like this one are what make football the greatest game ever. In football, there are no easy games. There are no soft opponents.
There is only the elation of hard-won victory and the gut-wrenching sorrow of defeat.
The great thing about spirits is: they never die. They come back again and again and again; to challenge you; to test you; to make sure you have what it takes to be worthy of them; worthy of blessing and glory or worthy of darkness and damnation.
Old Lodge Skins, the Indian Chief in the movie Little Big Man said to the Great Spirit, "Thank you for my victories... and my defeats."
In Who Dat Nation, we are very thankful for our victories, made so much sweeter by the defeats we have endured over these decades.
We respect our opponents like the Redskins, who are now enduring defeat, because we've been there ourselves. One thing I know: If the Redskins keep playing with the spirit they played with today, it will smile upon them and they will know victory very, very soon.
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