- The Washington Times - Monday, December 7, 2009

In winning their first 11 games this season, the New Orleans Saints showed all the qualities of an excellent team: a high-powered offense, an aggressive, opportunistic defense and solid special teams play. But in beating the Washington Redskins 33-30 in overtime Sunday at FedEx Field, the Saints might have discovered an added ingredient to take them to another level.

And, no, as one reporter kiddingly suggested to Saints quarterback Drew Brees after the game, it wasn’t New Orleans-style voodoo.

“I don’t know about the voodoo, but I definitely believe in destiny,” Brees said. “I believe in karma and what goes around comes around. We’ve been on the other side of this deal probably too many times. Maybe it’s our time that we start catching some of the breaks and start being a team that wins ‘em like this in the end.”

Maybe, indeed. The Redskins tried mightily to deny the Saints from reaching 12-0 and clinching the NFC South without backing into it. Brees has taken residence among the league’s top quarterbacks, and he threw for 419 yards. But he was outplayed for most of the game by Jason Campbell, his Washington counterpart who, like the rest of the Redskins, has struggled mightily at this year.

Brees also had no running game to speak of, and the Saints’ defense, coached by former Redskins assistant head coach Gregg Williams, looked mostly uninspired against an offense that had done little this year. But thanks to a couple of odd occurrences added to their own considerable talents, New Orleans erased a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit and won on Garrett Hartley’s 18-yard field goal with 8:40 left in overtime.

Hartley, filling in for John Carney, had four field goals. The winner came shortly after veteran cornerback Chris McAlister forced a Mike Sellers fumble to give New Orleans the ball on the Washington 37 after the Redskins won the toss in overtime. The fumble wasn’t called at first; replay officials reversed the play only after Saints coach Sean Payton called time to allow the review.

But none of that would have happened if Shaun Suisham hadn’t missed a 23-yard chip shot with 1:56 left in regulation. The kick would have extended the Redskins’ lead to 10 points, a near insurmountable deficit with so little time remaining.

The miss enabled Brees to throw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Robert Meachem to tie the score just 29 seconds later.

“I think this is our destiny,” running back Mike Bell said. “Our team is blessed. It’s definitely blessed.”

Even as Suisham lined up for the makable kick, Bell said he never had any doubt. “I called it,” he said. “Our coaches have done great job instilling in us that we will not accept losing.”

Meachem had a career game with eight receptions for 142 yards and the touchdown. Not bad for a 2007 first-round pick who missed his rookie season with a knee injury and often didn’t know where to line up in 2008.

But Meachem also made a play at least as important as his touchdown catch. With the Redskins leading 17-10 late in the first half, Brees threw an interception to safety Kareem Moore. As Moore made his way upfield, Meachem stole the ball and ran 44 yards the other way for a touchdown to make it 17-17.

Meachem’s feat had Payton grasping for the proper adjective.

“A huge play,” he said. “A game-changer, really. It’s an effort play, a credit to a guy hustling. It’s an amazing play.”

Meachem, who said he might have made a similar play “in middle school,” knifed through a pair of blockers to get to Moore. Taking the ball away was easier.

“I saw the way he was carrying the ball,” he said. “Defensive players, when they pick the ball up, they don’t secure the ball like offensive players, because they don’t have to.”

Brees said he had one thought after Moore’s pick: “Oh, God, get this guy down.”

“And then,” Brees said, “Meachem comes from nowhere.”

And the Saints look like they are headed somewhere.

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