The Saints/Texans game on Monday night featured three scoring plays and two lead changes in the final minute, which means the offenses were doing plenty of things right.
But it also means both teams — particularly on defense — had their share of moments that made fans wonder: What were they thinking?
Let’s start with a less obvious second-guess: Should the Saints, leading 24-21 with 55 seconds left and facing 4th-and-6 from the Texans’ 29, have gone for it instead of trying a field goal? Houston was out of timeouts, so gaining six yards would have ended the game. Missing a 47-yard field goal would have given the Texans prime field position at their own 37 with a good chance to at least tie. And even making the field goal — which the Saints ultimately tried and did make — would give Houston the ball down six and still in position to take the lead. I’m neutral on this one, but I can see the logic in going for it.
That said, the Saints made it. Houston got the ball back at its own 25, trailing 27-21 with 50 seconds left. From there, Deshaun Watson uncorked two beautiful throws to get the Texans into the end zone in just 13 seconds.
On the first play, the Saints rushed four linemen and Watson had time to beat a double-team near the sidelines. Perfect throw, and just enough protection. On the second play, a 37-yard TD strike to Kenny Stills, the Saints brought an extra rusher on a blitz. The Texans picked it up just enough, and Watson made New Orleans pay. So: For anyone who yells at teams for playing prevent defense in these situations, this is what can happen if you’re aggressive. Maybe it’s better to get beat that way instead of conceding yards and trying to bleed out the clock, but remember the Texans were out of timeouts and needed a touchdown. Maybe a less aggressive approach would have worked better?
The Texans actually missed their first extra point try, but the Saints were flagged for roughing the kicker. The second kick was good, so it’s 28-27 with 37 seconds left. After a touchback, the Saints still had 37 seconds and 1 timeout to move into field goal range.
The Texans rushed three on the first play … and Drew Brees beat them for a 15-yard completion to the middle of the field. After a spike, there were 20 seconds left from their own 40. Again, the Texans rushed three. And again, Brees beat them over the middle — this time for 11 yards to the Houston 49. A quick spike again, and there were just 6 seconds left.
So what do you do here? Well, if you were Houston you called pretty much the worst possible defense: Rushing just 2 guys but playing soft coverage — at least on the wide side of the field. Brees had an easy pitch and catch with Ted Ginn, who was down at the 40 with 2 seconds left. A timeout and a 58-yard boot from Wil Lutz later — no chip shot, to be sure — the Saints had escaped with a 30-28 win.
It was a great, thrilling game. But it also left a lot of questions.
Maybe there is no perfect defense to play in the final minute. Maybe Monday was just an example of two great quarterbacks — one just starting out on what looks to be a great career and one winding down — taking whatever the defense was offering and picking it apart.
But maybe the Texans should have been playing the defense the Saints played, and the Saints should have been playing the defense the Texans were playing?