(The Sports Exchange) - According to local lore, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is built over an old voodoo pit, and for the first 60 minutes against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, it looked as though the New Orleans Saints were sticking pins all over their bodies.
When Saints kicker Zach Hocker clanged what would have been a game-winning 30-yard field goal off the left upright with 12 seconds left in regulation -- a glorified extra point -- the Saints and Cowboys headed to overtime tied at 20.
However, Saints quarterback Drew Brees had the perfect antidote to Hocker’s curse.
On the second play of overtime, Brees calmly connected with running back C.J. Spiller on a wheel route down the right sideline, and Spiller used his power to shake off a diving tackle attempt by safety Barry Church and his speed to race 80 yards for the game-winning touchdown and a 26-20 overtime victory.
New Orleans (1-3) snapped its three-game losing streak, while Dallas (2-2) fell for the second week in a row.
The touchdown pass just 13 seconds into overtime -- Brees’ second of the game -- gave the veteran 400 touchdown passes for his career. Spiller rushed over to Brees after the score and handed him the ball.
“I told him, ‘Brother, you deserve it,'” Spiller said. “He’s probably the best teammate I’ve ever played with -- just his preparation. He deserves it.”
Saints coach Sean Payton attributed the winning play to Brees’ arm and craftiness. After running back Khiry Robinson dropped a first-down pass on the Saints’ 20-yard line, Brees noticed that the Cowboys’ defense was slow to line up on second down.
“I believe they struggled getting aligned, and Drew was smart enough to snap the ball,” Payton said. “It was a vertical route, a play we had run earlier. The tackle C.J. broke on the safety was huge. A great play.”
Brees said: “They were late getting lined up, and I felt like if we caught them in man and they had some confusion, we could have a big play. I tried to keep the safety in the middle (of the field). If C.J. gets behind somebody, nobody’s catching him.”
Spiller, who missed most of training camp after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on a small meniscus tear in his knee, said his eyes lit up when the Cowboys lined up.
“I figured I had only one guy to make miss, and fortunately I was able to do that,” Spiller said. “I looked up at the Jumbotron (video screen) and didn’t see no one coming.”
Because the Saints scored a touchdown on their first possession, the Cowboys did not have a chance for an overtime possession.
Brees finished 33-for-41 for 359 yards with no interceptions. Spiller caught five passes for 99 yards.
Hocker’s miss at the end of regulation blunted a furious 68-yard drive by the Saints inside the final two minutes. Brees completed a 30-yard pass to wide receiver Brandon Coleman to the Dallas 17 with 20 seconds left, but regulation ended 20-20.
“It’s funny, but as the ball was bounding off the left upright, I said, ‘This is not the way God intended for us to win the game. He’s got another plan,'” Brees said.
“Before I went out, I guess I was aware of (reaching 400), and I made that part of my thought process. Right when the play call came in for C.J., I said, ‘This is it. This is going the distance.'”
Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden (16-for-26, 246 yards, one TD, no interceptions) led Dallas to the tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter, guiding the team 91 yards on eight plays.
On the drive, Weeden completed passes of 24 yards to wide receiver Terrance Williams, 28 yards to tight end Jason Witten and 19 yards to wide receiver Brice Butler before hitting Williams for a diving 17-yard score on fourth down with 1:51 left.
“It was a big-time throw from Brandon to T. Will for the touchdown,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. “We did a good job of surviving. We got a great break that they missed the field goal. Obviously, in overtime, we didn’t get the job done.”
Asked what happened on Spiller’s game-winning catch, Garrett said the Cowboys “didn’t get the matchup the right way. They made the play, and we didn‘t.”
Robinson put the Saints up 20-13 with a 1-yard run midway through the fourth quarter.
The victory snapped the Saints’ six-game home losing streak and extended Weeden’s streak of consecutive losing starts to 10.
Editing by Sudipto Ganguly