Saints Washington

Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) tries to break free from New Orleans Saints defenders in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Al Drago)

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LANDOVER, Md. — One of the teams at FedEx Field on Sunday doesn't really have a nickname.

The other doesn't really have an identity.

But maybe, just maybe, the New Orleans Saints found theirs in their defense, which is what we thought their identity would be after Week 1 but started having doubts after watching them seven days earlier.

The defense bounced back Sunday and made sure the Saints head into the bye week with some much-needed momentum.

Sunday's final: the New Orleans Football Team 33, the Washington Football Team 22.

Unlike a week ago, the Saints finished.

They can thank the defense (with a strong assist from punter Blake Gillikin) for giving them something to finish.

The Saints defense made sure this one didn't slip away early, bending but not breaking throughout the game. There were still some big plays that will have to be eliminated, but keeping Washington out of the end zone early was big.

Washington drove into Saints' territory on its first two possessions, including to the 5-yard line on the second one. Both times, Washington had to send kicker Dustin Hopkins onto the field. Out of its seven trips inside the Saints' 35, Washington got into the end zone just twice.

"Three (points), not seven," Marshon Lattimore said. "That's the goal."

And zero, not seven is even better than that, which was the case on Washington's fourth possession when Saints rookie cornerback Paulson Adebo intercepted Taylor Heinicke to stall a Washington drive that reached the 16-yard line.

The 15 points Washington missed out on when it settled for two field goals and failed to score a touchdown could have very easily swung this game the other way and had the Saints scratching their heads for the next two weeks before their next game at Seattle. Instead, the situation looks more promising than it did a week ago when New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones torched them for 402 yards and earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. There won't be any such honors for Heinicke, who finished 20 of 41 for 248 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. (P.J. Williams had the other one).

The Juice Boyzz, the nickname the Saints defense calls itself, found its juice again after having it taken away last week.

The Saints found themselves in a position Sunday much like the one they faced a week ago in the Dome.

Last week, the Saints took an 11-point lead with 12:09 left. On Sunday, they took an 11-point lead with 12:12 left.

This time, the Saints made sure there was no repeat of losing to an NFC East team that they are clearly better than.

"Last week is something we don't even want to think about," said Lattimore, who had 6 pass breakups. "We let that game go. We know we had to lock in and do what we've gotta do to end the game this time. We don't want to leave it up to anybody but us."

The defense got plenty of help in this one from Gillikin, who averaged averaged 53.6 yards on his five punts. That includes his pivotal 60-yarder that pinned Washington at the 1-yard line. The Saints' defense forced a 3 and out, setting up a punt that was followed by Jameis Winston's Hail Mary to Marquez Callaway to end the half.

But this one wasn't about finishing the half. It was about finishing the game. Winston talked all week about the importance of that after being unable to do so last week.

"We finished," Winston said. "That was a very positive thing and it felt great."

Now, a defense that has been banged up all season can start getting some of its key pieces back. Defensive tackle David Onyemata has to sit out one more game before his return. Guys like defensive end Marcus Davenport and linebacker Kwon Alexander are rehabbing injuries and will be a big boost once they return to the unit that is clearly the Saints' bread and butter.

"We are just trying to hold it down for them until they get back," Lattimore said. "When they get back, everything is going to click. That's what we're waiting on."

This article originally ran on ktbs.com.

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