Saints coach dismisses talk of destiny

Sure, miracles and saints go hand-in-hand – just not usually in

New Orleans.

And to hear coach Sean Payton talk, little has changed during

the Saints’ unbeaten run through the first 12 games of 2009, no

matter how improbable their latest victory may have looked.

“Much has been talked about in regard to fate, destiny, luck

and all that,” Payton said Monday. “Obviously we can’t control if

a kicker makes or misses a field goal, and yet when you’re on the

short end of some tough games like that, I never hear fate, luck or

destiny brought up. I hear how we have to finish better or we

didn’t do this or that.”

New Orleans’ comeback seemed highly unlikely when the Redskins

lined up for a 23-yard field goal with under two minutes to play on

Sunday. Kicker Shaun Suisham had never missed an NFL field goal

shorter than 30 yards in 29 career attempts.

His 30th such attempt went wide right. Less than a minute later,

Drew Brees found Robert Meachem for a game-tying 53-yard TD pass,

and the rest is history. The Saints won 33-30 in overtime, improved

to 12-0, clinched the NFC South Division title and tied a franchise

record for wins in a season with four games still left.

In Washington, the Redskins never trailed in regulation and were

in control for most of the game. With the Saints’ top three

cornerbacks – Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter and Randall Gay – all out

with injuries, Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell racked up a

career-high 367 yards passing.

The Saints also struggled to run the ball against Washington’s

stout defensive line, finishing with a season-low 55 yards

rushing.

Statistical trends pointed to the end of the Saints’ remarkable

unbeaten run. Yet New Orleans benefited from an array of unusual

plays to stay within striking distance.

“We find a way to win,” Saints running back Mike Bell said.

“That’s what good teams do, right?”

First there was a New Orleans punt that hit Washington’s Kevin

Barnes on the back. New Orleans recovered at the Redskins 41.

Several plays later, Brees was intercepted by Kareem Moore, but

Meachem tracked Moore down, stripped the ball, then grabbed it and

ran for a touchdown. Although that play represented the most

unusual TD the Saints have scored all season, Payton held it up as

a prime example of why he doesn’t want to hear about luck.

“When you look at Robert Meachem’s play, I don’t want to

discredit his hustle and the effort a guy makes on a play like

that,” Payton said. “I don’t want to take away from the effort

and the plays that guys made.”

Payton credited the offensive line for giving Brees time on to

throw the long TD pass to Meachem, as well as an earlier long

scoring strike to Marques Colston. Payton cited cornerback Chris

McAlister’s hit in overtime that forced a fumble by Washington’s

Mike Sellers. McAlister scrambled to scoop up the ball even though

officials blew the play dead, ruling that Sellers was down.

As Washington lined up for the next play, Payton called timeout

because coaches cannot challenge plays in overtime.

“All I was trying to do was slow down that process and

hopefully give someone a chance to look at that closely,” Payton

explained. “Fortunately, they were able to take a peek.”

The call on the field was overturned, and the Saints, after

losing the coin toss to start overtime, suddenly had the ball on

the edge of field goal range.

Several plays later, Garrett Hartley kicked a chip shot to win

it.

For the previous 42 years of the Saints’ existence, improbable

events on the field usually benefited New Orleans’ opponents.

There may be no better example from recent history than “River

City Relay” in December 2003. The Saints used a downfield pass and

three laterals to score a potential game-tying, 75-yard touchdown

on the final play of regulation, only to miss the extra point in a

20-19 loss.

Two seasons ago, the Saints tried a reverse and fumbled the

exchange while clinging to a late lead against Tampa Bay. The

Buccaneers then drove for a winning score.

Last season, New Orleans lost five games by three or fewer

points.

The 2009 Saints are different. The victory at Washington marked

their second significant comeback on the road. They also roared

back from a 21-point deficit at Miami in Week 7.

When these Saints return from road games, thousands of fans line

road outside the airport to welcome them back and celebrate their

latest win, as they did Sunday night.

Bell, who was riding with a teammate, rolled his window down,

shouted “Who dat!” and reached out to exchange high-fives.

“I’ve never been a part of anything so great,” Bell said. “I

want to share with the fans how special this is.”