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What we learned from Saints’ thrilling win over Texans

A super finish in the Superdome! A back-and-forth fourth quarter that featured three lead changes and three scores in the game’s final minute finished on the leg of New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz, who knocked in a game-winning 58-yard field goal with zeroes on the clock. That kick sent New Orleans (1-0) past Deshaun…

A super finish in the Superdome! A back-and-forth fourth quarter that featured three lead changes and three scores in the game’s final minute finished on the leg of New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz, who knocked in a game-winning 58-yard field goal with zeroes on the clock. That kick sent New Orleans (1-0) past Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans (0-1), 30-28.

Here’s what we learned in an instant classic on Monday Night Football:

1. Result aside, this was Deshaun Watson‘s game. The Texans quarterback was battered and bruised by a ferocious Saints defensive front (more on that later), entering the medical tent twice in the first half with an apparent back injury and receiving treatment from a Texans staffer throughout the second half. Despite the hits he took, Watson grew more poised as the game wore on. His connection with DeAndre Hopkins was in midseason form (8 rec, 111 yards, 2 TDs), most notably on Houston’s last-ditch drive.

“We knew we weren’t out of the game,” Hopkins said later of Houston’s late six-point deficit. “We knew it was just a couple of plays, especially with a quarterback like Deshaun.”

The QB with five fourth-quarter comebacks to his name last season, Watson “drove” the Texans 75 yards in just two plays and 13 seconds to steal the lead with under a minute to go. Houston had not scored since early in the third quarter, but with time running out, Watson uncorked his two best balls of the night to pull the Texans ahead — a 38-yard strike to Hopkins on the sideline and a picture-perfect deep score to Kenny Stills, whom Houston acquired in a trade just days ago. All this with an unsettled back and an unsettled line. If not for the comeback king on the other sideline, Watson would have been hailed as Monday night’s hero. Hell, he still is.

2. The Saints keep marching on, doing the same things that took them within a no-call of the Super Bowl. Alvin Kamara, playing his first game without Mark Ingram in New Orleans, was as slippery as ever, racking up 169 total yards on 20 touches. His new backfield mate, Latavius Murray, was used sparingly. Despite the presence of tight end Jared Cook, Michael Thomas was Brees’ top target once again (10 rec, 123 yards). Drew Brees, 40 years young, posted the 116th 300-yard passing game of his career, launching just six of his 43 attempts more than 15-plus yards through the air. The Saints signal-caller saved his best for last, marching New Orleans into field-goal range in three pass plays with 37 seconds on the clock and just one timeout at his disposal. None of the plays went out of bounds, but thanks to two spikes and a timeout with two seconds left, Wil Lutz was afforded the opportunity to knock in his career-long game-winner. It was the game-sealing drive under pressure that one expects from a future first-ballot Hall of Famer in Brees, and a sign that this year in New Orleans might different than the last. This time, Brees and the Saints finished.

3. Houston invested heavily in protecting Watson when it sent first-round picks (plural) to Miami for a franchise left tackle in Laremy Tunsil (and Stills). Did the investment pay off in his first week on the job? Depends. Tunsil was as advertised on Watson’s blind side, but he couldn’t patch wounds along an offensive line without its starting left guard and playing for the very first time in a game, preseason or regular season. Watson was under furious pressure all night, often from up the middle, and took six sacks and 11 QB hits, escaping even more due to his preternatural elusiveness. Houston led the league in sacks allowed last season with 62. One game into 2019, the Texans are well on the way to exceeding that number. With time and practice will come better communication along the refurbished front, but that was not the case on Monday evening.

4. Have you guys seen J.J. Watt? I could’ve sworn Jadeveon Clowney was the one who was no longer on the Texans. In his first game without Clowney across from him on Houston’s defensive line, Watt did not show up on the stat sheet. No tackles, no sacks, no nothing. He forced one holding call on right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, but other than that, Ramczyk and the Saints‘ top-five offensive line handled Watt and Houston’s pass rush. Brees was sacked just once, which compared to his quarterbacking compatriot across the sideline was clean living. Without Clowney in the Texans‘ front seven, Houston will need to look to other names to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, assuming Watt is playing like the four-time Defensive Player of the Year that he is. When he’s not, like on Monday night, Clowney’s absence will be magnified.

— Jeremy Bergman

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