Justin Simmons’ perfectly timed leap over Saints long snapper Justin Drescher brought the celebration inside the Superdome to a stunning halt, and sent the Broncos galloping the other way for a first-of-its kind victory.
Just like Denver drew it up.
Will Parks scooped up Simmons’ smothering block of Wil Lutz’s point-after kick and ran 84 yards for a defensive 2-point conversion that lifted Denver to a wild 25-23 victory over the Saints on Sunday.
Simmons says Denver calls the play, “Leaper,” and was “something we worked on all week.”
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“It took me a few tries to actually time it up and make sure I could clear the center” in practice, Simmons said. “We just picked up on their tendencies throughout the week watching film and executed the play.”
The decisive play came while the Superdome crowd was still buzzing about Brandin Cooks’ twisting, 32-yard touchdown catch between two defenders, which had put New Orleans in position to take the lead with 1:28 left. Simmons’ block was scooped up by Parks, who nearly stepped out of bounds as he raced down the left sideline.
“I’m still in disbelief a little bit. Especially when you score at the end,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “It’s tough to play a game like that on both sides of the ball, fighting the way that we all did, and then for it to come down to something like that.”
It was the first such play to provide the winning points in an NFL game and the third return for 2 points since the NFL began allowing defensive scores on such plays in 2015.
“We’ve always had that play in our arsenal,” Simmons said. “You put it in the back of your pocket for a situation like this to go win the game.”
New Orleans (4-5) wasn’t entirely unprepared. Drescher said the Saints have a pre-snap “Jumper” call that linemen are supposed to make when an opposing team’s alignment tips off such a play.
“It’s an awareness factor,” Drescher said. “We’ve gone over this before and it’s on me. It’s my responsibility to get up and get him and I didn’t do it, and I feel horrible. It’s a horrible way to lose the game.”
The Broncos made the play stand up by recovering an onside kick and running out the clock.
The Broncos’ league-leading pass defense got the best of its matchup with New Orleans’ top-rated passing offense, thanks in large part to turnovers.
Safety Darian Stewart intercepted Brees twice and recovered a fumble for the Broncos (7-3). Three of Denver’s four takeaways came on passes intended for Saints rookie sensation Michael Thomas. Thomas fumbled twice after catches, and one of Stewart’s interceptions came on a pass Bradley Roby deflected out of Thomas’ grasp.
Brees still wound up completing 21 of 29 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns, with the first two scoring passes going to Willie Snead.
Brees final TD pass capped a six-play, 75-yard drive that began with 2:50 left and no timeouts. It put the Saints (4-5), who won four of their previous five games, in position to climb above .500 for the first time this season following an 0-3 start. It was not to be.
Trevor Siemian overcame two interceptions by passing for touchdowns of 14 yards to Jordan Taylor and 2 yards to Demaryius Thomas. Siemian finished with 258 yards passing and completed other clutch throws as Denver converted 11 of 19 third downs.
“I was up and down, I made a few mistakes. The defense bailed us out a couple of times,” Siemian said. “But overall, the group really played hard and there’s something to be said about that.”
MOMENTUM SHIFT: The Broncos controlled the first 29 minutes. Stewart intercepted Brees twice – joining the currently injured Aqib Talib as the only Broncos with multiple interceptions in one game. The second turnover set up Brandon McManus’ 50-yard field goal, which gave the Broncos a 10-0 lead.
Late in the second quarter, Denver was across midfield and looking for one more score when Sterling Moore anticipated Siemian’s short throw toward the left flat and intercepted it. Brees marched New Orleans 50 yards in less than 29 seconds, setting up Lutz’s short field goal to make it 10-3 at halftime. It was the beginning of 17 straight Saints points.
AGGRESSIVE FRONT: The Saints’ defense entered the game with 11 sacks through their first eight games, or 1 1/2 more than Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller had by himself. But New Orleans created more pressure up front and sacked Siemian six times. Rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, DT Nick Fairley, end Cameron Jordan, safety Kenny Vaccaro and linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Craig Robertson all had sacks. Meanwhile, Denver’s defense sacked Brees once to increase its season total to 29. Linebacker Shaq Barrett got the lone sack.
Denver enters its bye week.
New Orleans has a short week, playing at Carolina on Thursday night.