Saints Flash Greatest Strength Despite ROY Candidate Justin Herbert's Brilliance

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistOctober 13, 2020

El quarterback de los Saints de Nueva Orleans Drew Brees (9) salta por encima de la línea de gol para un tourchdown en la primera mitad de su juego de NFL contra los Chargers de Los Ángeles en Nueva Orleans, el lunes 12 de octubre de 2020. (AP Foto/Butch Dill)
Butch Dill/Associated Press

Around the water cooler Tuesday—or, because it's 2020, during that lull as you wait for the boss to join your department's Zoom call—the conversation is more likely to focus on Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers than Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. 

But the Saints are fine with that.

They didn't garner as much buzz as the Chargers and their sensational rookie quarterback Monday night. Herbert and wide receiver Mike Williams have a higher probability of trending on Twitter, and their highlights are more likely to go viral. 

But despite that and a 17-point New Orleans deficit in the first half, the Saints won, and the Chargers did not. 

It didn't matter that Herbert threw four touchdown passes to zero interceptions, that the Saints converted just five of 15 third-down attempts, that the Chargers hit on twice as many 20-yard plays (four) as New Orleans (two) or that the Chargers even won the turnover and penalty battles. 

When it mattered, the Saints scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns, drove for an overtime field goal and made just enough defensive stops for a 30-27 overtime victory that often felt as though it was never in doubt despite what the box score would indicate. 

It's often boring compared to their home-run-heavy days gone by, and it isn't always pretty. But the Saints know how to win. 

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"We did not play very well for the first half of this football game," Brees admitted to ESPN's Lisa Salters after the game, noting that the comeback was simply about "execution."

"At the end of the day," he added, "when we can just execute, take care of the football and do all of the winning things that we know we can do, then good things happen."

That's somewhat of a cliche, but it perfectly encapsulates the Saints. Frankly, this entire game was a cliche for both teams, with the Chargers finding a way to lose and the Saints finding a way to win. 

Indeed, this was the Saints' 40th win since the start of 2017, which is the highest total in the sport during that span. 

And while this was Brees' first 17-point comeback victory in over a decade, it was the Saints' second comeback from 14-plus points in as many weeks and their third in their last seven regular-season games.

They trailed 20-3 in the second quarter Monday night, they were down 14-0 in the first quarter last Sunday against the Detroit Lions, and they also fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter of a 2019 Week 16 battle with the Tennessee Titans. But in all three cases, a veteran team remained calm, cool and collected and won in a fashion that was either surprisingly uneventful, shockingly routine or both at once.

The Saints don't panic. They've turned winning ugly into an art form, and that was on full display Monday night when Brees threw a second-quarter interception that led to said 17-point hole and then proceeded to complete 28 of his remaining 36 passes for 293 yards while leading three touchdown drives. 

That doesn't mean the football gods don't give the Saints a hand here or there. The Chargers could have won this game in regulation if not for a 50-yard Michael Badgley field-goal attempt that hit the right upright at the conclusion of the fourth quarter, and New Orleans likely benefited when an already-depleted Bolts squad lost starters Keenan Allen and Uchenna Nwosu to injuries midgame. 

But keep in mind that New Orleans was also without its top receiver, Michael Thomas, who was suspended following an altercation with a teammate this weekend. 

So yeah, Herbert is getting more name-checks in your sports group chat, and for good reason.

He earned more fantasy points than Brees did, and the novelty associated with a breakout prime-time performance from a young potential star can't be overlooked. The Offensive Rookie of the Year buzz is deservedly growing, and anyone without skin in the game is excited to see what the short- and long-term future holds for him, Williams, Allen, Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley and Austin Ekeler in Los Angeles. 

But the Chargers are also 0-4 with Herbert serving as their starter, and they're practically toast following yet another deflating loss. 

The Saints? They'll take the sloppy yet somehow—eventually—methodical win, as well as a first-place tie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers atop the NFC South. 

The Saints rarely dazzle us nowadays, and they're far from flawless. But it just so happens that their top strength is finding ways to win football games, and that was once again the case Monday evening.  

     

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.