On both sides of the ball, the New Orleans Saints’ starring cast acted at its finest against the Miami Dolphins on Monday night, and that allowed some of their bit players to make cameos in front of the prime-time audience.
Second-string tight end Benjamin Watson caught his first touchdown as a Saint in New Orleans’ 38-17 thumping of Miami at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Cornerback Chris Carr, in his ninth year in the NFL, nabbed his first interception in New Orleans and his first since he was a Baltimore Raven in 2010. And special teams captain Will Herring picked off another pass, his second interception since arriving in New Orleans two seasons ago.
Watson, who joined New Orleans as a free agent in the offseason, can thank his team’s abundance of weapons on offense. Carr and Herring can credit their colleagues’ relentless pass rush, which has produced a dozen sacks.
Those guys’ fleeting moments in the spotlight Monday were reminders of how New Orleans’ numerous explosive players this year have made everyone around them better.
Watson scored to help New Orleans (4-0) take a 28-10 lead with 9:44 in the third quarter, and the play illustrated how difficult it is for defenses to account for all of the targets at Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ disposal.
Brees at that point had thrown touchdown passes of 27 yards and 13 yards to Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles, respectively. Sproles had also scored on a handoff 5 yards from Miami’s goal line; and, on Watson’s touchdown, he was lined up in the slot next to the wide receiver on the left, Marques Colston.
Brees pump-faked a screen to Sproles, feinted a handoff to running back Pierre Thomas and glanced at rookie wideout Kenny Stills, who was on the right and ran a post pattern but was covered. Brees checked down to the right and dumped a pass off to Watson, who briefly engaged defensive end Olivier Vernon before releasing him.
Watson caught the pass 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage, sprinted to the goal line and dove toward the pylon for the score.
Sproles ended up with 114 yards on seven catches and two touchdowns. Colston had seven second-half catches for 96 yards, leaving him with 7,692 career receiving yards, No. 2 in team history, ahead of Joe Horn (7,622) but behind Eric Martin (7,854).
Thomas had five catches for 37 yards, and Stills had four catches for 38 yards. Graham (with four catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns to remain the NFL’s most dangerous tight end) didn’t even line up on the play, and Brees targeted Watson, whose score was his only grab of the evening.
It wasn’t long before the Superdome crowd serenaded the Dolphins (3-1) with “Hey hey hey, goodbye” and taunted them with the “Who Dat?” chant.
Meanwhile, Herring’s and Carr’s interceptions — among three Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill tossed — occurred when the Saints were up 38-17. They happened because a New Orleans pass rush that recorded four sacks wasn’t satiated with the enormous lead.
With 6:32 left in the fourth quarter, Tannehill dropped back to pass on a second-and-2 from Miami’s 28. Only rookie nose tackle John Jenkins bowled tackle Tyson Clabo to the seat of his pants and lunged at Tannehill, who sensed the pressure and hastily threw a pass over the middle toward wide receiver Mike Wallace on the right.
But Tannehill didn’t connect with Wallace. Saints safety Rafael Bush, who recovered a Tannehill fumble in the second quarter, stretched out for the errant pass. He popped it up with his arms to Carr, who reached up and twisted back to snag the pick at Miami’s 43.
After Sproles lost a fumble on the ensuing drive, Tannehill attempted another pass on a third-and-14 from Miami’s 43.
Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette muscled past guard Richie Incognito and, with his right hand, slapped Tannehill’s biceps as he floated a ball in the general direction of wide receiver Rishard Matthews. Rookie defensive end Glenn Foster simultaneously reached Tannehill and yanked him to the ground.
Herring fielded the pass at New Orleans’ 41 and was tackled after a 6-yard return. Around Tannehill, the duo that put the ball in Herring’s grasp bumped helmets to celebrate.
“That’s just the character of this (defensive) line,” said cornerback Jabari Greer, who picked off Tannehill in the second quarter. “They have nonstop motors. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to finish the play and get to the quarterback.”