The only other time the Saints defense had a streak like this going, the team featured a star-studded group of linebackers named Rickey, Sam, Pat and Vaughan.
It was 32 years ago, before most of the starters on this year’s defense were even born. Now the Saints defense is one game away from surpassing something only the Dome Patrol accomplished in franchise history.
Dating back to last season, the Saints have held nine consecutive opponents to 20 points or less. They’ll try to make it 10 straight at 6:15 p.m. Monday night when they play the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The last time the Saints allowed more than 20 points in a game was Nov. 7, when they lost to the Baltimore Ravens 27-13. Nobody’s scored more than 20 since.?
The most recent game on that list was Sunday’s season-opening 16-15 victory over the Tennessee Titans. That one came with the Saints intercepting three passes and limiting Titans running back Derrick Henry to 63 yards, giving the unit even more optimism for what it thinks can be a special season.
“I think we can be the No. 1 defense in the NFL,” defensive tackle Khalen Saunders said. “Obviously everybody says that at the beginning of the year, especially after the first game if they win. But we really can be a great defense.”
Truth be told, this 2023 version of the Saints can be a great team, too. Especially if the offense ever catches up to the defense. The Saints’ record is just 5-4 during the past nine games, despite the stellar defense. That 1991 team, on the other hand, went 8-1 during the stretch when the defense limited opponents to 20 points or less.
So now it’s just a matter of Dennis Allen and Pete Carmichael getting both sides of the ball to play well at the same time. You can only imagine how good some of those Drew Brees-led teams would have been during his heyday if accompanied by defenses that could hold teams to 20 or less.
Defensive tackle Malcolm Roach wasn’t so about the streak's length, but he knew one was going.
“We are just working to be consistent every day,” Roach said. “There was a lot of preaching Thursday that if we want to be the best, we’ve got to practice like the best. So we’re just coming in here working every day and just striving to be great, striving for perfection.”
The key to it all is being good in the red zone and not giving up big plays.
The Saints held the Titans to five field goals in the season opener. The defense hasn’t given up a touchdown in the last nine quarters. The last one came on a big play, a 78-yard pass by Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Gardner Minshew to A.J. Brown in the third quarter of the next-to-last game last season. They almost gave up a few big plays against the Titans, but bad throws from Ryan Tannehill prevented that from happening.
“There were some mistakes that were made,” first-year Saints defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. “There were three plays where guys were wide open and that can’t happen. We dodged a few bullets.”
But overall, Woods was pleased with the way his unit played in his first game in charge after spending the 2022 season as coordinator of the Cleveland Browns. The defense picked up right where it left off under last season’s co-coordinators Ryan Nielsen and Kris Richard.
You have to go back five games (Atlanta last December) for the last time the defense gave up two touchdowns in a game.
“The sky is the limit for us,” safety Marcus Maye said. “We try to be better than the day before. If we keep doing that, we can be the best defense we’ve ever had here in a while. It’s a daily grind, a daily battle, a long season. So we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves.”
Next up is a division opponent with quarterback Bryce Young, the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft, making his home debut in what should be an electric atmosphere. The Panthers beat the Saints in last season’s final game, getting a defensive touchdown to squeak out a 10-7 victory.
The way the Saints defense has been playing, it could be another low-scoring affair. And if it is, this defense could surpass the Dome Patrol’s streak.
“We know that perfection never comes,” Roach said. “But if we keep striving for it, we can be as good as we can be. It’s a great unit. Every time we take the field, that’s what we are going for.”
Saints’ 20 or less streak
Last 9 opponents (including last season)
W 16-15 (Tennessee)
L 7-10 (Carolina)
W 20-10 (Philadelphia)
W 17-10 (Cleveland)
W 21-18 ((Atlanta)
L 16-17 (Tampa Bay)
L 0-13 (San Francisco)
W 27-20 (L.A. Rams)
L 10-20 (Pittsburgh)
1991 Saints' streak
W 17-10 (Kansas City)
W 24-7 (L.A. Rams)
W 26-0 (Minnesota)
W 27-6 (Atlanta)
W 13-6 (Philadelphia)
W 23-7 (Tampa Bay)
L 17-20 (Chicago)
W 24-17 (L.A. Rams)
W 10-3 (San Francisco)