Brian Allee-Walsh

Saints done in by Grim Leaper

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) pulls in a 37 yard pass as Denver Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby (29) covers.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) pulls in a 37 yard pass as Denver Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby (29) covers. Associated Press


What would have been one giant step for the New Orleans Saints on Sunday turned into a quantum leap for the Denver Broncos.

In one of the wildest finishes in Black and Gold history, the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos returned a blocked extra point for two points and an improbable 25-23 victory before a stunned sellout crowd 0f 73,138 at the Mercedes Benz-Superdome.

To borrow an ageless expression, the Broncos stole victory from the jaws of defeat thanks to the late heroics of rookies safeties Justin Simmons and Will Parks who combined to negate a potential winning touchdown collaboration of 32 yards between Saints quarterback Drew Brees and wide receiver Brandin Cooks with 1:22 remaining.

That touchdown pass tied the score at 23 apiece, leaving the Saints just one simple PAT away from securing a critical win and climbing above the .500 mark for the first time since 2013.

Simple as in snap, hold and kick. Simple as in a routine snap from Justin Drescher, a routine hold by punter Thomas Morstead and an angst-filled clutch kick by undrafted rookie Will Lutz.

But Simmons and Parks changed all of that. Simmons (a former triple-jumper) leaped over Drescher and smothered the kick, triggering a scoop and score by Parks who ran in front of the Saints bench and picked up a convoy en route to the Poydras Street end zone.

At first glance, it appeared Parks stepped out of bounds in front of the New Orleans bench. Numerous Saints players pointed to a spot on the sideline where they believed Parks had mis-stepped. But the NFL replay booth was unable to produce irrefutable evidence to overturn the call on the field.

Thus, the play stood.

Moments later, the Broncos covered up Lutz' desperation onside kick, and Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian sealed the deal in victory formation.

"Hate to see a hard-fought game come down to a simple play like that,'' said Brees, who acquitted himself well after throwing two early interceptions.

"Hey, that's a tough call,'' Saints coach Sean Payton said. "(Parks') got white cleats, against the white sideline. The (officials) didn't see enough to overturn it. I didn't see anyuthing illegal.''

And while the zany, incredulous outcome will dominate the local sports talk around the water cooler Monday morning, the Saints have no one to blame but themselves. They committed four turnovers that resulted in 13 points for the visiting team, not to mention a blocked PAT returned for two points that uiltimately spelled their own demise.

So, now it's on to Carolina and a primetime date on NFL Network/NBC with the Panthers at 7:25 p.m. Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium, knowing full well what might have been if not for the "Grim Leaper.''