TAMPA, Fla. — In the end, the drought lasted less than 100 minutes.
But, man, did it feel like an eternity while it was happening.
The New Orleans Saints’ offense suddenly looked lost for nearly seven straight quarters after a historic start to the season. A total of 10 points, 287 yards and three turnovers over the course of 15 possessions.
They lost 13-10 at Dallas in Week 13, then they fell behind 14-3 midway through the third quarter at Tampa Bay in Week 14.
Everything you need this week:
• Scores, highlights and more »
• Full schedule » | Full standings »
• Weekly stats leaders »
• Updated playoff picture » | Playoff Machine »
• Injuries tracker: Who’s in, out »
More NFL coverage »
Then, just as suddenly, the floodgates opened and they were back to scoring 25 points in less than 20 minutes to beat the Buccaneers 28-14 and finish Sunday as the No. 1 team in the NFC standings.
“A lot of people expect us to come out and be perfect, but that’s just not reality,” Saints running back Alvin Kamara said. “You know, people make mistakes. We may start slow sometimes. But it’s not when adversity hits, it’s how you respond to it. And I think this team responds well to adversity.”
So what to make of the Saints over the past two weeks?
Is it discouraging that their unstoppable offense suddenly looked so stoppable? Or is it encouraging that they were able to shake it off the way that they did on Sunday?
The answer is a little of both.
It’s a shame the Saints (11-2) and Drew Brees had to prove they’re actually human after they entered Week 13 as one of the five highest-scoring teams in NFL history through the first 11 games of a season. Brees, who went from one turnover in the first 10 games, now has four turnovers over the past three weeks — which could severely ding his MVP candidacy.
And it’s a bit scary to imagine the Saints facing the Chicago Bears’ defense or even the Cowboys’ defense again in the playoffs the way those units have been performing lately.
But every offense is capable of a dud, now and again (see: The Los Angeles Rams’ 15-6 loss at Chicago on Sunday night). And the Saints have a long enough track record to prove they still have one of the best quarterbacks, one of the best playcallers, one of the best wide receivers, one of the best RB duos and one of the best offensive lines in the game.
And what was so important about the Saints’ finish at Tampa Bay is how they never lost confidence — and how quickly they got back into their rhythm as they scored a total of 25 points in four possessions.
“We just gotta get our swag, man,” Kamara said. “We’ve been playing with swag for how long, for how many weeks in a row? … And then to play three [games in 12 days from Week 11-13], we just [had to] get our swag back.
“So I think we found it in the third quarter, we’re back on track and back on pace to do what we’ve been doing — and that’s dominate.”
“Man, it’s just a resilient group. We’ve got a gritty group,” Ingram added. “We have a group that believes in each other, that no matter what arises throughout the game, ups and downs, whatever obstacles present themselves in the game, we feel like we can overcome them.
“We believe in each other. Our defense has been playing strong. Even though we were struggling early in the game, they kept fighting for us, giving us a chance to get back in it.”
The biggest concern for the Saints’ offense going forward is probably their lack of wide receiver depth.
While it was a neat story that Brees made history by throwing touchdown passes to four different undrafted players in Week 12 against Atlanta, he hasn’t found any receiver who he can consistently count on outside of Michael Thomas.
Fellow starter Tre’Quan Smith doesn’t have a single catch over the past two weeks, while Brees has thrown for a total of just 328 yards in those two games.
Perhaps it’s time for the Saints to give veteran Brandon Marshall a look after he has been inactive for the past four weeks — though there is no guarantee he would be any more effective than Smith or Keith Kirkwood or Austin Carr or Tommylee Lewis. Ideally, the Saints could get veteran Ted Ginn Jr. back from injured reserve at some point — though it remains unclear if that’s possible.
Everything else looks correctable.
The Saints’ biggest problem on Sunday was their lack of a run game early. Ingram and Kamara combined for a total of 2 yards on nine carries until they turned things around midway through the third quarter following a game-changing blocked punt by Taysom Hill.
Thanks to a holding call against left tackle Jermon Bushrod on one run play and a 7-yard loss by Kamara on a failed toss play, the Saints had a third-and-15 and a third-and-19 on two separate drives in the first quarter. Ingram also got stuffed on a third-and-1 early in the third quarter.
But Ingram and Kamara finished with a combined 101 rushing yards over their last 16 carries in the second half.
And the offensive line should only continue to get stronger with standout left tackle Terron Armstead expected to return soon from a pectoral injury. Armstead, who has missed four games, returned to practice on a limited basis last week.
“If we can be in third-and-manageable situations, which means good first- and second-down efficiency, then we typically put good drives together and go down and get points,” said Brees, who chalked up both of his turnovers on Sunday as “kind of fluke deals.”
The first was a botched screen pass where Brees surprisingly threw the ball nowhere near Ingram. The second was a strip-sack from behind against standout right tackle Ryan Ramczyk.
“So you just play fast and make good decisions, and all that stuff takes care of itself,” Brees said.