LANDOVER, Md. -
Oh, what a charmed life the unbeaten New Orleans Saints are leading these days. There's surely no other way to explain the shanked punt that turned into a 29-yard gain, the Drew Brees interception that somehow morphed into another touchdown for Robert Meachem, or the fact that the Washington Redskins missed a 23-yard field goal that would have sealed a victory with less than two minutes to play.
Therefore, it seemed inevitable that Brees, operating with no timeouts, would lead an 80-yard, game-tying drive that took just 33 seconds and tied the game with 1:19 remaining. And, of course, in overtime, the Saints benefited from a replay reversal and won Sunday's game 33-30 on Garrett Hartley's 18-yard field goal 6:29 into the extra period.
The victory improved the Saints to 12-0 and clinched the NFC South, although it was a far-from-perfect performance. The defence gave up 455 yards to the Redskins, and the offence had to make up a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Washington (3-9) blew a late fourth-quarter lead to lose for the third straight week.
Brees finished 35-for-49 for 419 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for the Saints, who won a sub-5 degrees Celsius game for the first time since 1995. Meachem caught eight passes for 142 yards and scored the late game-tying touchdown, a 53-yarder wide open over the middle that made the score 30-30.
Meachem also scored a fluke first-half touchdown by forcing a fumble after an interception.
After Meachem's late touchdown, the Saints had a chance to win in regulation after Jonathan Vilma's interception, but Hartley - playing his first game of the season in place of benched veteran John Carney - was well short with a 58-yard field goal attempt on the last play of regulation.
The Redskins won the toss and had the ball to start overtime, but Mike Sellers fumbled when he was upended by Chris McAlister after making a catch - a turnover that was only verified after a meticulous replay reversal - giving the Saints the ball at the Washington 37. Brees needed only seven plays to march New Orleans to the one before Hartley made the game-winning kick.
Jason Campbell completed 30-of-42 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns with one interception for the Redskins. Campbell frequently picked on first-round draft pick Malcolm Jenkins, and much-maligned 2008 second-rounders Devin Thomas and Fred Davis had big games once again. Thomas had seven catches for a career-high 100 yards and two touchdowns, and Davis had five receptions for 53 yards and a score.
The Redskins' season-high yardage output came against Saints defensive co-ordinator Gregg Williams, who ran Washington's defence from 2004-07 and was passed over for the head coaching job when Joe Gibbs retired. Players on both teams expected the fiery Williams to try to punish his old team relentlessly, but his players frequently missed tackles and couldn't shut the Redskins down when New Orleans was trying to mount a comeback in the fourth quarter.
Suisham's missed field goal bailed the Saints out, but it wasn't the first big New Orleans break of the game. Meachem's first-half touchdown was an especially unforgettable play.
Facing third-and-26 at the Redskins 44, Brees backpedalled under pressure and threw a desperation pass deep over the middle toward Jeremy Shockey in triple coverage. Kareem Moore dived over Shockey's back to make an interception, rolled over, got up and ran 14 yards before Meachem simply took the ball away from an upright Moore and started running down the sideline - high-stepping 44 yards for the team's ninth return touchdown of the season, tying the game at 17 with 22 seconds left in the first half.
Just as strange as that touchdown was a play that set it up. A few plays earlier, when the Saints punted from their own 30, Thomas Morstead shanked the kick so badly that it hit Washington's Kevin Barnes flush on the back near the sideline. New Orleans recovered at the Redskins 41.