Check here to see how the 2018-2020 juggernaut Saints were born.
2018: NFC Juggernaut
The Saints were even better in 2018. They won 13 games for the third time in 10 years, and they scored 500 points. They were the top seed in the NFC for the first time since 2009. Brees led the NFL in passer rating, beating out Patrick Mahomes.
New Orleans took care of the reigning champion Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round, advancing to face the 13-3 Los Angeles Rams.
The Saints and Rams had squared off earlier in the season, and the Saints won the battle of undefeated teams. Under Brees, the Saints were 6-0 in home playoff games.
Fly Over Sports Podcast: Episode 32 – Fly Over Sports Podcast
New Orleans jumped out to a 13-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. The Rams answered with 10 second quarter points, and the teams traded short touchdowns in the third quarter. The Rams finally clawed all the way back by kicking a field goal with five minutes left in regulation.
New Orleans started innocently enough on the next drive. Brees hit three straight short passes to gain 16 yards and a first down. Two plays later, Ginn slipped open for 43 yards. The Saints stood in the Los Angeles red zone, two minutes away from the Super Bowl.
Three plays and 10 seconds later, the Saints had a 3rd-and-10.
Moments later, Nickell Robey-Coleman became the most hated man in Louisiana.
The Saints kicked a field goal. Los Angeles drove the length of the field and tied the game to send it to overtime.
At this point, the antagonist changes. After years of heartbreak caused by defensive ineptitude, Brees took his hand at self-inflicted pain. In overtime, Brees lofted a ball deep to John Johnson. Johnson may not have many distinct characteristics, but the most important one for this conversation is that he did not play on the same team as Brees.
Four plays later, Greg Zuerlein launched a 57-yard field goal to put the Rams in the Super Bowl.
2019: Juggernaut: Part II
All was not lost, however. The Saints immediately went 13-3 again. They had one of the best offenses in the league, finishing 10th in scoring. The defense was appropriately “bend, but don’t break” enough to finish in the top half of the league in points and yards allowed.
Brees even missed five games, and the Saints rolled to five victories. New Orleans had an All-Pro in all three phases. The Saints had just eight turnovers, setting a modern-day record for fewest in a season. They did not have a game with multiple turnovers.
However, unlike 2018, the Saints did not win the tiebreaker at 13-3. For the second time in nine seasons, the 13-3 Saints were the NFC’s No. 3 seed.
With the arrival of the 14-team playoff format in 2020, there ended up being 18 seasons in the 12-team playoff, 32-team league format. Of 216 playoff teams, two went 13-3 and did not secure a first-round bye. Naturally, both of these teams were Saints.
Alas, the Saints got a home game. They welcomed Minnesota to town, eager to reverse the pain of the Minneapolis Miracle.
Minnesota, Part II
New Orleans struck first with a fumble recovery and a Lutz field goal. Minnesota answered with a field goal. After exchanging punts, Kamara slipped in for a short rushing touchdown.
Minnesota took the next six minutes off the clock, settling for a field goal.
Three plays later, Brees found Anthony Harris. Harris plays for the Vikings.
Minnesota capitalized on great field position, driving 45 yards in under two minutes to take the lead.
New Orleans nearly went to the half tied after a huge Deonte Harris (All-Pro) kick return and Thomas (All-Pro) catch, but Lutz missed a 43-yard field goal.
The teams opened the second half with three punts. Dalvin Cook and the Vikings extended their lead to 10 with time beginning to wane.
New Orleans began the fourth quarter down 10, but they drove 85 yards to find paydirt.
The defense came up big with a key third down stop to get the ball back.
New Orleans started driving again, picking up 51 yards on five plays to get into the red zone. Brees celebrated the accomplishment by fumbling.
The New Orleans defense was up to the challenge, forcing two tackles for loss and a sack on the next drive.
Brees had two minutes and one timeout to go tie or win the game. Brees rifled five straight completions to gain 44 yards, but New Orleans had to settle for a 49-yard field goal. Lutz drained it.
Minnesota won the coin toss in overtime, drove 75 yards in nine plays, and Kyle Rudolph ended New Orleans’ season with a touchdown reception.
A Future Juggernaut?
But wait, all is not lost. The 2020 Saints were just as good as the 2018 and 2019 versions. They were top five in scoring offense and scoring defense. They won the NFC South for the fourth year in a row. Brees missed a four-game stretch with injury, but the Saints rallied and won three out of four games. They swept the NFC South for the first time ever. This was a true juggernaut.
Check here to see the final installment of Drew Brees and the Saints.