Conventional wisdom in the NFL dictates that in order to win games, you need to have a solid defense, a consistent and effective running game and limit your turnovers. Relying on the pass, letting up big plays to the opposing offense and giving the ball away on your side of the field are anathema to successful teams.
By definition, though, conventional wisdom is boring and methodical and, right now, the New Orleans Saints are anything but. How else can you explain yesterday's thrilling 40-33 win over the Houston Texans?
This is a game in which the Saints offense three the ball twice as many times as it ran it and had five of its 11 possessions end in a punt or a turnover. The defense, meanwhile, gave up over 120-yards receiving to two different players, while giving up the most passing yards since November of last year. New Orleans also trailed by a touchdown or more on three different occasions in this game, they lost their starting center and right tackle and entered the fourth quarter with just 17 points.
It is baffling to look at all that and realize that the Saints escaped with a victory. But looking back on the game as a whole, you begin to realize that the Saints' win came as a result of the Texans failure to pull into a dominating lead. Houston never led by more than the 10-point margin they held in the first quarter, they failed to stop the Saints from scoring a touchdown on three straight drives in the fourth quarter (twice when they had the lead) and, when they absolutely needed a play to shut up a raucous Superdome crowd, they never got one.
Now, while the defense has, at many more times than is acceptable, resembled its toothless 2008 incarnation, these Saints benefit from a roster deep with championship experience. And while defensive coordinator Gregg Williams may not have the talent at cornerback or linebacker that he had when he first came to New Orleans, his play calling and aggressiveness certainly haven't subsided. So while you have those "Oh, God, Why?" moments like when Houston's Andre Johnson was left inexplicably wide open before converting a 48-yard pass play, you also have those much more important "Oh, God, YES!" moments, like when the Saints' defense intercepted Schaub in the fourth quarter to set up Brees' second touchdown drive of the frame.
Maybe there is something to be said about the Superdome's home-field advantage. It seems as though fans attest it was the loudest they've ever heard it in the Dome after every Saints win, but that's more of a testament to Who Dat Nation's consistent loudness of late. Having Steve Gleason walk out as an honorary captain, just hours after it was revealed that he has been diagnosed with Lou Gherig's disease — on the five-year anniversary of his blocked punt in the first game in the Superdome after Katrina, no less — may have also provided some extra mojo.
But more than anything, yesterday's win was symbolic in how much the team's identity has changed since Payton and Brees came to town. 10 years ago, who's to say that the same amount of fans would have stayed through all four quarters when it seemed like there was no way the defense could stop the Texans? And even if they did, who's to say that they wouldn't have been too anxious to actually stand up and get as loud as they did yesterday when the Saints needed it most? If it was Aaron Brooks - or anyone else, really - that had thrown that second interception late in the third quarter instead of Brees, would anyone wearing Black and Gold have believed that they could manufacture three touchdown drives in the next 15 minutes to win the game?
See, the reason that yesterday's win is so inexplicable is because, in many ways, we're still getting used to the fact that these Saints are not prone to folding or giving up games where they still have a shot to win. These Saints, unlike so many others before them, expect to win.
And, boy, do we love to watch them do it.