- The Washington Times - Friday, December 4, 2009

The New Orleans offense had done the unthinkable - it punted - and Wes Welker’s 41-yard return gave New England possession inside Saints territory.

Leading 7-3, the Patriots had a chance to extend the advantage and put the Saints on their heels.

It lasted one play.

Mike McKenzie jumped Randy Moss’ route to intercept Tom Brady. Seven plays later, the Saints took the lead en route to a 38-17 victory.

No team in the NFL this year has generated more takeaways (32) and produced more points and momentum from turnovers than New Orleans, which is second in the NFL with a plus-12 ratio.

“It’s still the number one statistic in football, and that differential and our ability to get takeaways and reduce them on offense helps you win games. And if you’re good at that, you’re going to see that result,” coach Sean Payton said. “If you’re not good at that, you’re going to see that as well.”

Eleven of the 14 teams with a positive ratio have winning records, including six of the eight division leaders.

The league’s eight last-place teams are a combined minus-45, including the Washington Redskins’ minus-6 mark (28th).

“Turnovers are huge - when they happen, where they happen, what the offense does with the ball when you get it back,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “Those are game-changing-type plays.”

The Redskins have 13 takeaways but have no defensive touchdowns and only 32 points off the turnovers.

The Saints have scored seven defensive touchdowns and 124 total points off their takeaways. To put that into perspective, the Redskins have seven defensive touchdowns in their past 112 games.

Takeaways are the Redskins’ best chance of shocking New Orleans. Miami jumped to a 24-10 lead in Week 7 by turning two Drew Brees interceptions into 14 points. The Saints eventually rallied for a 46-34 victory.

“We’re going to have to do something to shorten the game and shorten the field, take a possession away from their offense and score points or at least give us a short field,” safety Reed Doughty said.

Where the Saints have thrived is ending opponents’ drives when they’re on the cusp of scoring - they have eight takeaways inside their 20-yard line.

“Those are really big,” cornerback Carlos Rogers said. “[Darren] Sharper has had some interceptions down there, and that’s taking points off the board. The offense is thinking they have at least a field goal, and to come back and for [the Saints] to put seven on the board, that’s big.”

New Orleans also has provided its offense with a short trip to the end zone - seven scoring drives have started inside the 20.

“Certainly anytime you get a takeaway, there’s a double aspect to it: The team you’re playing loses a possession, and you gain a possession,” Payton said. “If it happens on their side of the field, it’s obviously hidden yardage and getting the ball with a short field.”

Only five of the Redskins’ takeaways have allowed the offense to start in the red zone.

Allowing opposing defenses to score also changes the momentum. The Redskins have allowed three touchdowns by the defense.

“I remember in New York [in Week 1] they had a fumble for a touchdown, and it’s a little bit deflating because you weren’t even on the field and you’re down,” Doughty said.

Fletcher knows turnovers will be vital to a Redskins upset.

“They’ve created a lot of turnovers, and obviously we don’t want to come out of this game losing the turnover battle,” he said. “If you do, the likelihood of winning the game decreases.”

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