Story and photos by Derek Dunbar, senior at St. Augustine High School and Chris Taylor, junior at St. John the Baptist STEM Magnet High School. Mentoring by Sam Joffray and Rob Noelke.
Saints fans took to the streets of the Crescent City Monday afternoon to kick off the 2019 season—on one of the hottest days of the summer for one of the hottest games of the week.
But Saints fans were grateful for more than just the air conditioning in the Super Dome. Because the lack of wind at this home field season opener helped the Saints close out a real nail biter—by allowing kicker Wil Lutz to kick a career-high 58-yard field goal with just two seconds left on the clock. Good thing everyone was holding their breaths.
The Who Dat Nation was pumped and looking to start the season with a W, determined to break the 0-1 cycle that has plagued the team in season openers since 2013. And lucky for them, the rest of the NFC South lost over the weekend, so the Black and Gold had the chance to take the division lead in week one.
Not ready to put the past behind them, a good number of Who Dats were dressed as referees stressing the “the infamous no-call” in the season-ending NFC Championship game against the Rams last January. New Orleanians costume like no one else. Add pettiness to the mix, and you’ll have some idea of what peppered the seats in the Dome last night.
The energy was equally amazing, as New Orleans fans were already testing their vocal cords before kick-off. Their volume eventually reached a noise level of 118 decibels when they forced a first-quarter false start and a three-and-out by the Texans offense.
Their enthusiasm continued until quarterback Drew Brees threw an early red-zone interception. The fans’ energy was further sucked out of the Dome, as the Texans capitalized with a touchdown by a drive from quarterback Deshaun Watson at the beginning of the second quarter.
After the Saints’ defense forced a four-and-out to start the second half, the Saints’ offense, led by Brees, marched down the field and capped off their first drive of the second half with a touchdown from newly acquired running back, Latavius Murray. The crowd slowly came back to life after the Saints’ deficit was cut to 4.
As soon as the Saints fans showed some sign of life, Texans wideout, DeAndre Hopkins sucked it right out of them midway through the third quarter. His second touchdown felt like a sign the Texans may be pulling away with this game. Shocked Saints’ fans sat back and prayed that their quarterback could lead them to a victory, and Brees did just that.
Brees capped off a 75-yard drive with a 9-yard pass to Taysom Hill a.k.a the “Mormon Missile” with just a couple of minutes on the clock, giving the Saints a chance to overtake the lead. On the next Texans drive, Marcus Williams brought the fans to their feet after grabbing his first interception of the year, before getting viciously slammed to the ground.
Once again Brees showed his greatness by finishing the third drive in the row with another passing touchdown; this time the recipient was Tre’Quan Smith. The Saints defense then sacked the Texans quarterback, Watson twice on their next drive and secured a field goal on the subsequent drive of their own.
If this were any other game, the Saints leaving another team with 50 seconds on the clock at their own 20-yard-line would seem like close enough to game-over, but that wasn’t the case for this absolutely insane Monday Night matchup. Watson came up with a huge drive that resulted in a touchdown. Then came time for the extra point: the first attempt went wide, leaving it at a potential tie game to head to overtime with 37-seconds left. And, almost as if on cue, then came the referees—and we’re not talking about the ones in the stands.
The officials made a controversial roughing the kicker call that surely made Saints fans’ and fairweather fans’ blood boil. How can the Saints be dealt another game-changing hand in the final seconds, after how their last season ended? The Texans reattempted the extra point and made it, leaving a mere 37 seconds on the clock.
But never bet against Drew Brees.
The Hall of Fame-bound quarterback started a tightly-clocked, three-play drive that left Lutz on the fleur-de-lis at half field, staring down the goalposts.
Yes, the first half of this Monday Night Football game was a nightmare. The Saints’ defense gave up 14 points, 204 total yards, and only sacked Watson once. The Saints’ only put up three total points in the first half with 181 total yards—160 of those from Brees.
The second half, however, was a different story, the Saints offense came out firing, scoring on three straight drives to open the half. The defense applied more pressure to Watson, finishing the game with 6 total sacks. Brees finished with two touchdown passes and 370 total passing yards and Kamara pitched in 169 yards from scrimmage, and Michael Thomas with 123 receiving yards.
But the real yardage that felt like all the difference in their night came from Wil Lutz. His 58-yard field goal wasn’t short, and it was nothing short of sublime.