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2002 New Orleans Saints special teams takes top honors of past 30 years

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Toby Gowin, John Carney, and Michael Lewis all hand a major hand in the Saints being named the top special teams unit from the past 30 years.

Steelers v Saints Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Football Outsiders continued their series focused on Top 30 units in respective disciplines that’s been ran through ESPN. Today highlighted special teams, which has two New Orleans Saints teams on their list. Here’s what they had to say:

1. 2002 New Orleans Saints

+12.2 percent

The Saints ranked in the top five in all five phases of special teams, gaining at least 8.0 points over average in each one, even after our adjustments for their playing indoors. John Carney hit 31 of his 35 field goals, or 89 percent, which ranked him second behind Adam Vinatieri. Carney and punter Toby Gowin split kickoff duties, and the coverage team stopped 22 opponent returns behind the 20. But the biggest star on special teams was the Beer Man, Michael Lewis. A former Budweiser truck driver, Lewis was the rare NFL player to come out of semi-pro ball instead of college. He averaged 14.2 yards per punt return (one touchdown) and 25.8 yards per kick return (two touchdowns). On top of all this, the Saints blocked three punts, a field goal and an extra point.

Unfortunately, the Saints went only 9-7 and didn't make the playoffs despite this special-teams performance because both the offense and the defense were below average. There's only so much that a great special-teams unit can do.

Also worth mentioning is that both Fred McAfee and Michael Lewis made the Pro Bowl as special teamsters, and were both AP All-Pros. That 2002 squad was sitting high and mighty at 9-4 entering Week 15, but it all went south for Jim Haslett’s once 6-1 team. They lost each of their final three games by a touchdown or less, including two at home.

Not to be forgotten, the 1987 Saints also made the list, coming in at 13th overall. Morten Andersen finished 6 of his 12 games with 10 points or more. You can view the entire article here, but it does require ESPN Insider access.

13. 1987 New Orleans Saints

+8.6 percent

The Saints had the best special teams of the strike-shortened season, mostly thanks to first-team All-Pro (and soon-to-be Hall of Famer) Morten Andersen. He hit 78 percent of his field goals, including all his attempts from fewer than 40 yards. The average kicker in 1987 connected only 85 percent of the time on kicks of fewer than 40 yards. Andersen also averaged 65.4 yards per kickoff in a season when no other kicker averaged more than 62.

Tomorrow will feature the Top 30 teams of the past 30 years, and Friday will have the top individual seasons by players. The Saints may or may not have representation there.