NEW ORLEANS — Saints defensive lineman Cam Jordan saw the goal post right in front him and couldn’t resist the urge to rise up for a basketball-style dunk of the football over the cross bar.
Jordan had just tipped quarterback Matthew Stafford’s pass to himself in the Detroit end zone — a climactic moment in a game defined by bizarre bounces, unusual plays, extraordinary momentum swings and a historical first for New Orleans’ defense. Only a forbidden, fineable touchdown celebration would do.
“I realized my regular sack dance wasn’t going to cut it,” said Jordan, who expects to be fined and said it will have been worth it. “Fourth quarter, game was sort of tight. We had to seal that. I had been preaching: ‘This is our chance to respond.’ I’m glad I was the one to do it.”
Running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara combined for 237 yards from scrimmage, the Saints’ resurgent defense forced five turnovers and scored a franchise-record three times, and New Orleans took a 52-38 victory over the Lions on Sunday in a contest that wound up being nowhere near over after the Saints took a five-TD lead.
New Orleans (3-2), which has a winning record for the first time since its last playoff season in 2013, had to gut out a remarkable bid by Detroit (3-3) to pull off the greatest comeback in NFL history.
“It was a different one from sure,” said Stafford, noting that he and Saints QB Drew Brees even brought up the strange nature of the game when they greeted each other on the field before heading to the locker room. “He came up and said, ‘That was a weird one, huh?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, it was crazy.'”
Already renowned for leading Lions comebacks, Stafford only regretted three interceptions he described as fluky and his two fumbles.
“I’ll probably be more frustrated with the fumbles than anything else,” he said. “I’ve got to find a way to hold on to the ball.”
The Lions scored four straight TDs, including one on a 74-yard punt return by Jamal Agnew and another on A’Shawn Robinson’s close-range interception near the Saints goal line, in less than 15 minutes off the game clock to pull as close as 45-38 with 6:41 still left.
“We just don’t give up,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “Our guys show a lot of resolve. I don’t think they ever feel they are out of a game.”
But after Agnew muffed a punt and barely got it out of the end zone, Jordan scored about the same way Robinson had.
Saints coach Sean Payton’s voice was hoarse after a game in which Superdome crowd noise was fueled by the high-octane drama, and he forecast a long night of reviewing game video in an effort to see how dominant play for nearly three quarters nearly morphed into a collapse for the ages.
“We did a lot of dumb things, but fortunately our defense did a lot of good things,” Payton said. “I’m trying to be happy today, but it’s hard.”
The teams combined for eight turnovers.
The Saints’ defense produced its first points on Detroit’s first possession, when end Alex Okafor sacked and stripped Stafford in the end zone and safety Kenny Vaccaro recovered. In the third quarter, rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans’ top draft choice last spring, made his first interception and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown.
“I just love how we’re coming together as a team; that was one thing we had to do,” Lattimore said. “The first game, we were giving up stuff and just not communicating and right now we’re doing a good job.”
Vaccaro also intercepted a tipped fourth quarter pass and linebacker Craig Robertson forced and recovered Stafford’s second fumble.
The Saints hadn’t turned the ball over once this season before Brees was intercepted by Darius Slay, who ripped a potential catch from receiver Michael Thomas’ hands. Ingram fumbled in the second half.
“Probably one of the crazier games I have been a part of,” said Brees, now in his 17th season. “We have some momentum but we have to get better.”
Playing on a sore right ankle that visibly limited his mobility, Stafford was hit often, sacked five times and had about a dozen passes tipped or batted down. He finished 25 of 52 for 312 yards and touchdowns of 45 yards to Golden Tate, 22 yards each to Marvin Jones and Darren Fells.
Brees was 21 for 31 for 186 yards and touchdowns of 20 yards to Ted Ginn and 2 yards to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui.
Ingram scored two TDs on short runs and rushed for 114 yards on 25 carries in the first game since the Saints traded Adrian Peterson to Arizona.
Lions: Safety Glover Quin left the game to be evaluated for a head injury in the second half. Offensive tackle Greg Robinson limped off the field in the third quarter.
Saints: Linebacker Nate Stupar appeared to have a right leg injury during punt coverage in the fourth quarter.