CINCINNATI -- The Saints found another way to win Sunday, beating Cincinnati 34-30 to push their late-season winning streak to five. In recent weeks the Saints have won because of superstar somebodies like Drew Brees and undrafted rookie nobodies like Chris Ivory. On this winning streak they have won close games and blowouts. They have won via decision and knockout.
|The numbers say Carson Palmer had a decent game, but once again he helps the Bengals do everything but win. (AP)|
Cincinnati defensive tackle Pat Sims was the poor SOB, but it could have been anyone. Marvin Lewis spent three hours demonstrating how bad he is as a tactician. Carson Palmer undermined his 101.7 passer rating with his sub-70 football IQ. The secondary gave up big play after big play. The kicker missed a PAT. And so on.
But there can only be one final goat, and this one was Sims. There were 34 seconds left. The Saints trailed 30-27. It was fourth-and-2 from the Cincinnati 7. New Orleans lined up to go for it, but they weren't really going to go for it. They weren't looking for a hero.
They were looking for a Bengal.
"It's [called] a no-brainer freeze," said Saints coach Sean Payton, unwittingly -- I think -- making fun of the Bengals. "We were trying to draw them offsides. If they move substantially, then we can react. ... Really, we're just going to let the time run out [and kick the tying field goal]."
No need for that.
Bengals to the rescue!
Next play after the penalty, Brees hit Marques Colston for a 3-yard touchdown -- and that was that.
Well, no. This is the Bengals we're talking about, so that is never that.
Cincinnati's Bernard Scott returned the kickoff 47 yards to midfield, setting the stage for Palmer and Lewis to re-enact that classic movie Dumb and Dumber.
|More on Saints-Bengals|
On first down, with 22 seconds and one timeout left and 49 yards to go, Palmer dumped a screen pass into the middle of the field. Brian Leonard gained 14 yards, but now there were just 14 seconds left. Then 13. And 12 ... 11 ... 10 ... 9 ... 8 ...
That's when Palmer or Lewis, one of them -- well, maybe it was Jim Carrey -- stopped the madness and called timeout. The remaining crowd was screaming in horror, like it was watching a car rolling slowly off a cliff, until someone called timeout. Now there were eight seconds left and 37 yards to go. Palmer dropped back and ...
"Obviously disappointed with the finish to the ballgame," Marvin Lewis said.
On the one hand, the Bengals found a way to lose. On the other hand, the Saints found a way to win. And let's be honest: Both teams have mastered those respective arts. Cincinnati has lost nine in a row. New Orleans has won its past five games and its streak should reach six next time out against the Rams.
Take the candy from that baby next week, and the Saints would be 10-3 and in command of the NFC's top wild-card seed. At worst.
|New Orleans Saints|
|The defense allowed the Bengals to score on every second half possession except the final last-ditch drive, but like teams on five-game winning streaks do, Drew Brees and company found a way to pull it out.|
|The second-half effort was admirable as the Bengals pushed the Saints to the brink of defeat. Yet, as has been the case all season, the ridiculous mental errors cost them a game they very well could have won.|
|By Paul Dehner|
Find a way? That's what the Saints do. If you're giving away the game, like Cincinnati was on Sunday, the Saints will accept it. If you're being more stubborn, like Dallas was last week, the Saints will take it. Last week was the game in which Dallas receiver Roy Williams was sailing toward the end zone late in the fourth quarter, 11 yards from the game-sealing touchdown, when Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins stole the ball. Just took it out of his hands -- after which New Orleans drove 89 yards for the winning touchdown.
Sunday's heroes were Brees and Ivory, Robert Meachem and Marques Colston, and even the former ACC basketball player from Miami. His name is Jimmy Graham and he's a star in the making. Huge at 6-feet-6 and 260 pounds, fast (4.7 seconds for 40 yards) and explosive (40-inch vertical jump), Graham is becoming an increasingly dangerous part of the New Orleans attack. Of his 19 catches on the season, 14 have come in the past four games, including three for 72 yards Sunday.
In addition to Graham, who played just one season of college football before going pro this year, the Saints benefitted from the undrafted rookie from Division II Tiffin (Ohio), Ivory, who ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns. And from former seventh-round pick Colston (three catches, 65 yards, one TD).
And the Saints benefitted from the Bengals, whose miscues were many. There was the first-quarter penalty on fourth down -- running into the punter -- that extended a drive that led to a Saints field goal. There was the missed extra point by kicker Clint Stitser. And the consecutive Cincinnati running plays up the middle, on third-and-2 from the New Orleans 6 and fourth-and-1 from the 5, that proved fruitless. There was Palmer completing his first seven passes on third or fourth down, yet converting just two first downs because he kept throwing to receivers who were short of the first-down marker.
There was Pat Sims jumping offside on fourth down with 34 seconds left.
And Marvin Lewis not calling timeout as the seconds ... ticked ... and the crowd ... screamed.
No-brainer freeze? Sure. That's exactly what happened here Sunday. But even before the game started you knew, one way or another, the Bengals would lose. And the Saints would win. That's what these teams do.