Saints get physical, outlast Seahawks 25-20

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) passes in the first half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) passes in the first half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Sean Payton had a surprise in store for a Seattle defense that thrives on harassing quarterbacks and physically intimidating receivers.

The Saints coach dialed back New Orleans’ prolific passing game and challenged his running backs and offensive line to deliver as much punishment to Seahawks defenders as they could.

Drew Brees wound up well short of his typical passing numbers in the Superdome — 265 yards and one touchdown — but the Saints (3-4) pulled out a 25-20 victory they sorely needed to improve their prospects for climbing back into the NFC playoff picture.

“It doesn’t really have to be aesthetically pleasing to be effective,” Payton asserted. “The key is winning.”

The victory wasn’t assured until the New Orleans’ much-maligned defense, which entered the game ranked 29th in the NFL, came up with a stop on the Seahawks’ final drive, which started on the Seattle 32 with 1:50 left. Russell Wilson took the Seahawks (4-2-1) to the New Orleans 10, where he had one final play. He lofted a pass toward the corner of the end zone, where Jermaine Kearse caught the ball, but landed out of bounds.

“It was close. I tried to give him a shot,” Wilson said of his last throw to Kearse, adding that cornerback B.W. Webb “did a good job of trying to drive him out of bounds. I think he got one (foot) in and was trying to get the second one down. The last drive was a testament to our resilience.”

The Saints rushed 35 times and passed 35 times — certainly not the M.O. for a team that entered the game with a second-ranked passing offense and 28th-ranked running game. But it was effective. New Orleans gained 123 yards on the ground with Tim Hightower gaining 102, making him the first Saint this season to rush for 100. New Orleans also kept possession for 36:12 to Seattle’s 23:48.

“We knew coming in here it was going to be a physical game,” Hightower said. “In that fourth quarter, I looked over on their sideline and saw a couple of those guys on their knees and I said, ‘This is exactly where we want them.'”

Wilson finished with 253 yards passing and was intercepted once by linebacker Nathan Stupar, whose diving snag set up the Saints’ first TD on Brees’ 1-yard dive over a pile of players. Brees’ lone touchdown pass went to Brandin Cooks on a 2-yard slant , which gave the Saints the lead for good early in the fourth quarter.

Wil Lutz kicked field goals of 22, 53, 21 and 41 yards for the Saints, the latter coming with under two minutes left to put Seattle down by more than a field goal.

MINI SLUMP: Seattle has gone two straight games without a win, having tied Arizona last week, but the Seahawks hardly seem concerned.

“The great thing is we have all the players, we have the right system, we have the right guys,” Wilson said. “We are going to be able to do it. This is nothing that we haven’t faced before.”

MISLEADING STATS: While the Saints held numerous statistical advantages in several categories, big plays on both sides of the ball helped Seattle lead 14-13 at halftime and keep it close throughout.

Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril forced Mark Ingram’s fumble in the first quarter. It popped straight to safety Earl Thomas, who sprinted into the open field for a 34-yard touchdown.

A trick play set up Seattle’s second score. Wilson threw a backward screen to his left to receiver Tanner McEvoy, who then threw deep back across the field for a 43-yard completion to running back C.J. Prosise to the Saints 2. That set up Christine Michael’s TD run, making it 14-3.

Seattle’s defense also forced a field goal in the third quarter after the Saints had a first-and-goal on the 1 and thwarted a Saints 2-point conversion attempt after Cooks’ TD.

BENCHED: Ingram was benched after his fumble on this third carry of the game. It was his second fumble in two weeks while trying to fight for extra yards after contact. A week earlier, Ingram’s fumble inside the Kansas City 10 contributed to a six-point loss.

“Sometimes those things happen and I know he’s going to bounce back,” Brees said of Ingram. “I’ve got so much trust, great confidence in him as does this whole offense, so I wouldn’t look into that any further.”

GRAHAM’S RETURN: Jimmy Graham was silent about his return to the place where his NFL career started, avoiding media all week. He had a relatively quiet game as well, finishing with three catches for 34 yards. Graham did speak to media after the game, walking from the locker room to the stadium exit wearing headphones and ignoring several reporters’ questions.

BREES AT HOME: Brees now has a TD pass in 58 consecutive home games, extending his NFL-record streak.

UP NEXT: Seattle hosts Buffalo in the Week 9 Monday night game, while the Saints travel to meet San Francisco next Sunday.