The last unbeaten team in the NFL this season went down to defeat on Sunday, when the New Orleans Saints outlasted the previously undefeated Los Angeles Rams 45-35 in an entertaining battle. As many expected, offense dominated the day, as the two teams combined for 54 first downs and 970 total yards. The Saints looked as if they might blow away the Rams midway through the game, hitting on all cylinders offensively and scoring 21 unanswered points at one point for a 35-17 halftime lead. Los Angeles showed why they are one of the NFL's top contenders early in the second half when they roared from behind to tie the game at 35 in the fourth quarter. The Saints would spring back to life late in the fourth, scoring the game's final ten points and picking up two defensive stops to come away with the win. These two talented teams may very well meet again later this year with even more at stake. For now though, the Saints have taken over the top spot in the NFC, and established themselves as one of the unquestioned midseason favorites for a Super Bowl championship. Here are some of the biggest performers from this big shootout victory.
Brees, the 39-yr. old gunslinger, outdueled his young gun counterpart, 24-yr. old Jared Goff of the Rams. Goff actually threw for more yards than the NFL's all-time passing yardage leader, 391-346, but Brees threw for more touchdowns (4-3), and was deadly accurate when it counted the most. The quarterback was more aggressive down the field than he had been in weeks, and all but ended the game with a perfectly placed 72 yard scoring strike to Michael Thomas late in the 4th quarter on a vital 3rd down play. The 18-yr. veteran even scrambled for key yardage twice to maintain possession. Brees incredibly has never won a league M.V P. award, but may be in the driver's seat for his first, as he continues to play as well as he ever has in his legendary career.
Kamara had been held somewhat in check by opponents in recent weeks, but re-established his dominance on Sunday against a Rams defense determined to contain him. He scored 3 touchdowns in the first half (2 rushing, 1 receiving), and finished as the game's leading rusher with 82 yards on 19 carries. Kamara's 116 yards from scrimmage included 34 in the passing game, but he continues to show that he can handle the responsibilities of a featured back, perhaps the most multi-dimensional threat in the league.
Watson caught 3 passes in the game, finishing with 63 yards and a score, all in the first half. He made an incredible catch on a big second quarter touchdown drive that gave his team momentum, then later caught a Brees touchdown pass that widened their second quarter lead. Watson and rookie wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith have been the most consistent compliments to Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, and Mark Ingram in a Saints offense that will be even more dangerous with their increased contributions.
Watson's touchdown celebration also revealed that he and wife Kirsten are expecting twins, their 6th and 7th children. Congratulations Kirsten, Ben, and the Watson family!
Thomas dominated his match up with Pro Bowl Ram cornerback Marcus Peters and the rest of the Los Angeles secondary. He caught 12 passes for 211 yards, which broke a franchise record that had stood for 39 years and is the highest receiving total in the NFL so far this season. Thomas frustrated the Los Angeles defense by not only making tough catches in traffic, but by fighting for extra yards and key first downs on several occasions. He even showcased his underrated elusiveness as well, showing why he is one of the premier receivers in the National Football League. Thomas also endeared himself to Saints fans further when he pulled a cell phone out from under the goal post after his long score, imitating the celebration made famous by New Orleans great Joe Horn fifteen years earlier. Thomas' feats on the field have already placed him with Horn and other New Orleans greats in just his third professional season, and very soon he could be in a class all by himself.
The New Orleans defense, who had played well over the last month, had its hands full all evening with a Rams offense that finished 483 total yards. They made some big plays in key situations though. Alex Anzalone had an acrobatic first half interception that led to a score. He and Demario Davis led a defensive effort that limited the Rams Todd Gurley to just 89 total yards. Cam Jordan and Sheldon Rankins had solid outings that didn't show up on the stat sheet, despite being often and blatantly mugged all evening by the Los Angeles offensive line. Cornerback P.J. Williams came up big down the stretch, breaking up key passes to former Saint wideout Brandin Cooks to preserve the win. The victory is the Saints seventh in a row, and positions them as the top seed in the powerful NFC. They still have a tough schedule down the stretch, but now have key tiebreaker wins against fellow conference contenders Los Angeles, Minnesota, Washington, and division rival Atlanta. What may be most frightening for the rest of the NFL is the fact that the Saints showed yet again that they are capable of defeating even a top caliber opponent in a variety of ways.
Who was your New Orleans MVP in their shootout win over L.A.?
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