|Running back Pierre Thomas' fumble recovery was one of the biggest plays in the Saints' win over the Raiders on Sunday, interim coach Joe Vitt said. (US Presswire)|
Quarterback Drew Brees and the defense were the obvious stars in the Saints' comprehensive 38-17 win at Oakland on Sunday, but interim coach Joe Vitt named a key contributor who was less noticeable -- Pierre Thomas.
He was not talking about Thomas' five runs for 30 yards or his three catches for 28 yards. He singled out one play.
With the Saints protecting a 14-7 lead late in the first half, tight end Jimmy Graham fumbled after a reception at the Oakland 28. The three closest players to the ball were Raiders.
Yet, Thomas, who was several yards away, darted over and dove on top of it, beating everyone else by an instant.
“A big hidden stat in that game was the great job that Pierre Thomas did recovering the fumble that Jimmy lost,” Vitt said less than 20 seconds into his talk with reporters on Monday.
Two plays after Thomas' recovery, Brees threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore, giving the Saints a 21-7 halftime lead. They scored another TD on the first play of the second half, sealing the victory.
Thanks to Thomas, the Saints had zero turnovers for only the second time this year. They forced two turnovers. Free safety Malcolm Jenkins returned an interception 55 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, and strong safety Roman Harper intercepted a deflected pass in the end zone on the Raiders' next possession.
“He understands how important the turnover-takeaway differential is in the National Football League,” Vitt said. “It was the No. 1 key stat in the game. “He saw it. He got on it. He protected it.”
New Orleans, which had five turnovers in its first two games, has turned the ball over seven times in its past eight games.
Follow Saints reporter Guerry Smith on Twitter @CBSSaints.