By Nick Shook
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What a week for road teams. Seven of the week’s first 14 games ended with wins for the visitors, included a surprising shutout win on the part of Buffalo over New England, and two stunning comebacks for Oakland and New Orleans. Those late-game heroics, plus a great pass in a close finish in Arizona gave us our candidates for this week’s Greatest on the Road.
Greatest on the Road …
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Much has been made over the years when looking in hindsight at the San Diego Chargers right around the year 2005. Drew Brees, 32nd-overall selection of the Chargers out of Purdue, was on the way out. A shoulder injury to Brees in 2005 hastened the process of the Chargers hitting reset by turning to second-year quarterback Philip Rivers and offering Brees a contract he rebuffed, leading him to sign with New Orleans. Sunday was Brees’ first trip back to Qualcomm Stadium since the divorce, and he made it one to remember.
Brees got the Saints going early, leading an opening drive that culminated in a short Mark Ingram touchdown run. At one point in the first half, Brees completed 11 of 14 passes for 125 yards. The Saints‘ offense was moving.
A pass Brees attempted to force to Michael Thomas was tipped and intercepted, and after a crucial offsides penalty granted San Diego new life, the Chargers took a 24-14 lead into halftime. But Brees didn’t waver in the second half, opening with a touchdown drive that included a beautiful, well-placed pass to Ingram on a wheel route out of the backfield to move the ball inside the San Diego 15.
Brees’ Greatness on the Road moment came in the final four minutes and 50 seconds, when Brees and the Saints‘ offense faced a 34-21 deficit. The Saints took advantage of great field position, thanks to a Melvin Gordon fumble at San Diego’s 13. Brees found Michael Thomas with a back-shoulder pass on fourth-and-2 from the San Diego 5 to cut the Chargers‘ lead to 34-28.
A second fumble in San Diego territory — this time on the part of Travis Benjamin — set up the Saints with a great opportunity, and Brees took advantage. The Saints‘ offense utilized John Kuhn all afternoon, connecting with him twice on crucial plays, including a wild completion on third-and-1 that didn’t even look as if it were intended for the fullback. Kuhn scored one play later from a yard out to give New Orleans a lead it wouldn’t relinquish, and Brees some long-overdue revenge in San Diego.
Also considered …
Michael Crabtree, Oakland Raiders
Sunday was quite the encouraging day for Raider Nation. The brightest star of the day was wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
Fantasy owners who started the wideout, once called “mediocre” by a certain Seattle Seahawk, are likely walking with a pep in their step today after Crabtree posted his second straight impressive performance. Quarterback Derek Carr had an effective afternoon, completing 25 of 35 passes for 199 yards and four touchdowns. Three of them went to Crabtree.
The first score, a 15-yard completion, put Oakland ahead 14-3 early in the second. The Raiders went cold offensively in the third quarter, but Crabtree served as their microwave in the fourth, scoring on a 13-yard touchdown to give Oakland a 21-12 advantage.
Baltimore stormed back, scoring twice to take a 27-21 lead, leaving the Raiders looking stunned and the Ravens poised for another close victory. But Crabtree and Carr made sure that wasn’t the case, with the quarterback engineering a 66-yard drive capped by a 23-yard touchdown to Crabtree with 2:12 remaining. The wideout beat cornerback Shareece Wright and found an opening between Wright and the safety, dragging his toes in the back of the end zone on a score reminiscent of Corey Coleman‘s Week 2 touchdown against the Ravens. Baltimore’s fans left shocked, and Oakland boarded their flight west with another victory.
Case Keenum, Los Angeles Rams
Much of this honor comes down to the fourth quarter, when in a low-scoring, drag-out affair, Keenum came through.
Clinging to a 13-10 lead, Arizona failed to convert on third down and in the process, lost quarterback Carson Palmer, who left the game to be evaluated for a concussion. It opened the door for the Rams.
Tavon Austin returned a punt 47 yards to the Arizona 34, and a facemask put the Rams at Arizona’s 19 with 5:09 remaining. Keenum found Todd Gurley on a short completion near the sideline and the running back shifted back inside, gaining extra yards to keep the drive alive. On second-and-goal from the 4, Keenum took the shotgun snap, dropped and threw a decisive pass on Brian Quick‘s back shoulder for his second touchdown of the game and a 17-13 Rams lead.
The pass punctuated a solid day for Keenum, who finished with a stat line of 18-of-30 passing for 266 yards and two touchdowns.