By LES EAST
The New Orleans Saints are a fantasy football team.
Drew Brees. Alvin Kamara. Michael Thomas.
If you have those three players you don’t need much else – whether we’re talking about a fantasy team or the defending NFC South champions.
Right now the Saints have little more than those three players, which is enough – along with a bit of luck – to be 2-1 after a 43-37 overtime victory against the Falcons on Sunday in Atlanta.
Look at the numbers:
Brees completed 39 of 49 passes for 396 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He even ran three times for seven yards and two touchdowns – one of which tied the score late in regulation and another that won it at the end of the first possession of overtime.
Kamara rushed the ball 16 times for 66 yards and caught 15 passes for 126 yards. That’s 192 yards from scrimmage and he returned three punts for 16 yards, giving him more than 200 all-purpose yards.
Thomas caught 10 passes for 129 yards as he set the NFL record for most catches three games into a season (38), which came a week after he set the NFL record for catches two games into a season (28), which came a week after he set the Saints record for most catches in a game (16).
Those are remarkable numbers and New Orleans needed every single catch, yard and point in order to beat Atlanta.
Now those three did get some help. Ted Ginn Jr., Cameron Meredith and Zach Line had just six catches for a total of 29 yards among them, but each caught a touchdown pass, and Benjamin Watson had five catches for 71 yards.
So if teams want to devote significant resources to trying to contain Kamara and Thomas, Brees and coach Sean Payton do have other options and they’re close to getting back one really important weapon.
Leading rusher Mark Ingram II will complete his four-game suspension when the Saints visit the New York Giants next Sunday and the next day he will back in full standing.
As for the defense, well it still has a ways to go, but it has now played well enough for New Orleans to win two weeks in a row after its disastrous start in the 48-41 season-opening loss to Tampa Bay.
Against Atlanta, the Saints gave up 407 yards, but they did sack Matt Ryan three times and they kept him from getting his team in scoring position after Brees had tied the score at 37, forcing overtime.
It’s obvious that whoever plays cornerback on the opposite side from Marshon Lattimore – whether it’s Ken Crawley or P.J. Williams – is going to have a giant bull’s-eye on them because teams are exploiting them big time. It remains to be seen how bad Patrick Robinson’s ankle injury is.
The special teams were a huge contributor to this victory. Wil Lutz made all three of his field goals, although one struck the left upright before sneaking across the crowbar, and Alex Okafor had a game-turning blocked punt in the third quarter.
After Craig Robertson picked up the ball and rambled toward the Atlanta goal line, the Saints set up at the 16. From the 11, Brees found Meredith, who had been a healthy inactive for the first two games, for a touchdown on the fourth of eight lead changes in the game.
And finally there’s Taysom Hill, the jack-of-all-trades who is progressively becoming a more and more significant contributor.
He ran three times for 39 yards, returned three kickoffs for 64 yards and made a tackle on special teams.
On a third and 2 he ran 35 yards to help set up one touchdown and on another third and 2 he gained 2 to keep alive the overtime-inducing touchdown drive.
Speaking of overtime, the Saints won the coin toss and drove to the winning touchdown to claim the victory without the Falcons ever having an opportunity to possess the football thanks to the NFL’s absurd overtime rules.
When you think about it, New Orleans is 2-1 in large part because of things over which it had no control. Cleveland’s kicker missed two field goals and two extra points in a three-point loss and Atlanta never played offense in overtime, partly because it lost a coin toss.
So luck has been the Saints’ friend so far, and when you’re leaning on three players as much as New Orleans is right now, you take any help you can get.