Saints defense taking curtain calls

Oh. So that’s the working plan. Now the Saints are going to win with … defense?

OK. Whatever works.

It’s that time of the season when you don’t question the how. Aesthetics are nice, but not mandatory.

So if your defense has to … what? I’m lost for words. I’m not sure what words come next when typing about a Saints’ victory that seems straight out of a parallel universe.

The old reliable choices are Drew and Brees, sometimes an exclamatory Ingram or a dangling Kamara.

But they don’t fit into this tale.

The exciting fun guys are over in the corner somewhere, having exited stage left to let the … defense? … take the curtain calls.

This obviously will take some getting used to.

The Saints beat the Panthers 12-9 Monday night.

By Saints standards, that’s a baseball score.

In fact, it has been widely reported that never in the scoreboard-popping Sean Payton-Drew Brees era had the Saints scored 12 or fewer points and won a game, any game.

No Saints team had done it this century, since 1998.

Hold a team to single digits and, in the Saints’ playbook, that’s supposed to a rout.

Instead they were depending on defense — and that still doesn’t sound right — to erase their many offensive guffaws and were holding on for dear life at the end, probably fortunate that Panther quarterback Cam Newton obviously had a sore shoulder.

It wasn’t the first time. In fact, it’s become a trend. Suddenly, the thought occurs: if this team ever rediscovers an offense that the defense can be proud of, the sky’s the limit, the Super Bowl a high probability.

Let that sink in for a moment while …Wait a minute.

Is this the same Saints defense that, in the season opener while the offense was scoring their usual 40, gave up 48 to the Bucs and made a household name out of Ryan Fitzpatrick?

They spent the early weeks at or near the bottom of virtually every NFL stat that had the word defense in it.

Now this defense has become the strength of the team … and surely the sun will rise from the west tomorrow.

In the last six games, the Saints haven’t given up more than 17 points to anybody.

On Monday Carolina’s only touchdown came on a fourth-down trick play on the opening possession, a halfback pass from Christian McCaffery. Probably practiced it all week. Well, OK, but you used that bullet pretty early. What you got now?

Nothing, it turned out.

The Saints defense was almost toying with the Panthers after the quick 7-0 deficit.

Ordinarily, you’d think, OK, it’ll take Brees & Co. about five minutes to squeeze off a few quick ones and get this thing under control and rolling.

Never quite happened.

The Saints’ offense always looked like it was just about to take over the game. But it never did. Mostly penalties, always a mitigating factor in the NFL, but also some dropped passes.

Whatever it was, the familiar Brees rhythm never got going.

Not to worry, the suddenly dominant D seemed to be saying, we got your back Drew.

So cue up “Trading Places.

“To their credit, the Saints patched-up offensive line put together two late, long drives, the first of which finally gave them the lead in the fourth quarter. Typical of the offensive night, the attempt to stretch that lead to seven points with a 2-point conversion instead shrunk it back to three points when the LSU rookie, Donte Jackson, returned an interception the other way for the Panthers’ other two points.

On the second drive, two of my pet peeves collided right there on national television.

Leading 12-9, the Saints absolutely did the right thing in passing up the field goal in the final two minutes and going for it deep in Carolina territory on fourth-and-1.

Even if hadn’t worked, at worst the Panthers would have likely played for a field goal and then you take your chances in overtime. Going up by six with a field goal at that point takes away the opponent’s path of least resistance and is begging to get a Hail Mary dropped on your head for a shocking loss.

But the Saints did pick up the first down and had the game in hand.

You can score or run out the clock. Either ends the game.

Unless …At least Tommylee Lewis admitted his brain lock.

“At that time in the game, we’re up, don’t really need a touchdown,” Lewis told NOLA.com. “Just a dumb play by me.

“Yes, of course, he tried to extend the ball and score after the first down he’d already picked up would have sealed the game.

The only time you do the second-effort leap at that end zone pylon is when you absolutely have to score on that very play.

That area of the field has an uncanny knack of separating ball carriers from the ball. It’s the Bermuda Triangle of football.

Don’t tempt it except in truly desperate situations.

True, giving the other team the ball at their own 20 for a fumble they didn’t actually recover has always seemed like cruel and unusual punishment. But football’s sharpest minds have yet to come up with a suitable compromise.

So the Saints defense had to bail out the offense one more time.Still can’t believe I just wrote that.

“We don’t want to be a sideshow,” defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. “We don’t want to be the part of the team that gets carried on the way to the championship. We want to be the reason we’re able to hoist that Lombardi trophy in February.

“They are certainly the reason the Saints beat the Panthers.

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