Hallelujah if Sunday’s team is the ‘real’ Saints

GOOD HABIT:  Saints’ tight end Juwan Johnson caught a touchdown, this 7-yarder in the second quarter, for the fifth straight game. (Photo by PETER FOREST, Journal Sports)


NEW ORLEANS — Will the real New Orleans Saints please step forward?

Saints fans hope that’s what happened Sunday in a 27-20 homefield win over the reigning, but declining, Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams (3-7).

A week after a meek outing, a 20-10 loss to the once-proud Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans rose up and got a career day from quarterback Andy Dalton while benefitting from a concussion that sidelined Rams’ QB Matthew Stafford after halftime.

Dalton hit a career-best 84 percent (21-25) of his passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns, two in a pivotal third quarter that allowed the Saints to open a two-score advantage. That coincided with the New Orleans defense smothering the Stafford-less Rams, who managed only a pair of field goals in the second half.

Dalton completed 11 straight in the second half on the way to posting a career high QB rating of 149.6.

His longest throw was a 53-yard strike to rookie Chris Olave, unleashed just as Rams’ superstar defensive tackle Aaron Donald arrived.

“When you turn it loose and get hit to the ground, you never know what’s going to happen,” said Dalton. “To have that outcome and I put the ball in a great spot, it was exactly how we had it planned by taking that shot down the field. We got the look that we wanted and he made a great play.”

Olave, the first-rounder from Ohio State, had five grabs for 102 yards. It was his third 100-yard game, one shy of the Saints’ rookie record held by Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer Marques Colston since 2006.

He said it was just a matter of time before the Saints took that downfield shot.

“Coach (Pete Carmichael, the offensive coordinator) called a really good play on third down. We practiced that on that look this week,” said Olave. “We got the look that we wanted. Andy (Dalton) threw a great ball. The line protected well and that was the outcome.”

Rams’ coach Sean McVay said that backbreaking play, at the 5:47 mark of the third period for a 24-14 advantage, typified his team’s day.

“Aaron (Donald) does a great job of winning quickly, and (Andy) Dalton gets it out, and we are just not right in position on the back end,” said McVay. “You do not take away credit from those guys (the Saints).”

The Saints (4-7) snapped a two-game losing skid while Dalton gave way to Taysom Hill frequently. Although Hill did not have the dynamic day he did in the New Orleans win over Las Vegas three weeks ago, his involvement revved up the winners’ attack – leading the ground game with 52 yards on nine carries.

“It is part of how we play offense,” said Dalton, a 14-year veteran in his first season in New Orleans. “When you can play that way and have success with me in there and Taysom in there, the defense doesn’t know what is going to happen next.”

A Saints team that has topped the NFL in penalties most of the season drew only two flags for 15 yards Sunday.

“We didn’t do things that were going to beat ourselves today,” said head coach Dennis Allen. “That was good to see.”

Although he’s just a rookie, Olave recognized the dire nature of the Saints’ standing entering Sunday.

“It was much needed. We had consecutive bad games. To get a win against the reigning champs was huge. I feel like it is a great step that we can take forward.”

New Orleans, which won for the 400th time in franchise history, heads to San Francisco for its next contest.