By BRETT MARTEL
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Drew Brees and Wil Lutz supplied the accuracy and poise New Orleans needed to overcome another officiating gaffe and its defense’s late collapse.
Lutz made a 58-yard field goal as time expired, and the Saints beat the Houston Texans 30-28 on Monday night in a game that had three scoring plays in the final minute.
“That one’s got to be a top-one moment for me,” Lutz said, adding that as much as he tries to treat each kick the same, “I got to be honest. That one felt a little different.”
New Orleans had lost its previous five season openers. And after last season ended with a bitter loss in the NFC title game, the Saints had expressed urgency to start the 2019 campaign well.
“I knew how big this win would be,” Lutz said.
The moment the ball left Lutz’s foot, punter Thomas Morstead, who holds on field goals, turned toward his kicker, triumphantly flexing both arms at his side. Moments later, the crowd noise in the Superdome reached an ear-splitting crescendo as the ball split the uprights and Saints players jubilantly streamed onto the field.
Deshaun Watson threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to ex-Saints receiver Kenny Stills with 37 seconds left, capping a two-play, 75-yard drive that put the Texans in front after they began their final possession down by six with 50 seconds left.
But that left just enough time for Brees, who capped a 370-yard, two-touchdown performance by completing a 15-yard pass to Ted Ginn Jr., an 11-yarder to Michael Thomas and another pass to Ginn for 9 yards in quick succession. That allowed New Orleans to save its final timeout until just 2 seconds remained and set up Lutz’s career-long kick.
“When you have Drew as your quarterback, all I cared about was getting ready for the kick, because I knew with 37 seconds left there was going to be a chance,” Lutz said.
Had the Saints lost, it would have marked the second straight game in the Superdome in which a league-acknowledged officiating mistake worked against New Orleans. In last season’s NFC championship game, missed pass interference and helmet-to-helmet contact fouls against the Los Angeles Rams went uncalled in the final minutes. This time, a botched ruling left the Saints with 15 fewer seconds to run their hurry-up offense at the end of the first half. New Orleans had to settle for a 56-yard field goal try that Lutz narrowly missed.
The Saints came back from an 11-point, third-quarter hole to win anyway, but Brees wasn’t letting the officials or the league off the hook.
“That can’t happen. That’s a game changer,” Brees said. “If we had 15 more seconds, are you kidding me?”
The 40-year-old Brees completed 32 of 43 passes, mirroring his NFL-record 74.4 completion percentage last season. One of his TD passes went to reserve QB and utility player Taysom Hill, who also subs in as a tight end or slot receiver. The other went to second-year pro Tre’Quan Smith.
“Playing on the road against a great quarterback like Drew Brees, you’ve got to be able to put the game away,” Watson said. “We had the opportunities.”
The officiating mistake occurred when replay review officials stopped the game with 26 seconds left in the first half to determine if Thomas’ catch was long enough for a first down after he was initially marked just short. After the review resulted in a first down, officials called for a 10-second runoff to begin from when the game was stopped, not when Thomas came down with the ball 15 seconds earlier.
Brees animatedly disputed the decision, which left the Saints just 16 seconds to work with from their own 47.
After the game, NFL vice president of officiating Al Riveron said: “We should have reset it to 41 (seconds), not 26, and then ultimately to 31 (seconds) after the 10-second runoff.”
Fans in the Superdome, who won’t soon forget last year’s officiating gaffes, booed during the runoff and after Lutz’s long miss.
Thomas caught 10 passes for 123 yards, and Ginn’s seven-catch, 101-yard night was highlighted by his 41-yard reception deep down field at the 2-minute warning.
Alvin Kamara had 169 yards from scrimmage, including an 11-yard run set up the first score of the final minute on Lutz’s 47-yard kick.
Watson completed 20 of 30 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns — two of them to DeAndre Hopkins. Watson also ran for a 21-yard score on a fourth-down play.
The Texans finished with 180 yards rushing — 68 yards more than the Saints allowed in any game last season — with Carlos Hyde rushing for 83 yards and Duke Johnson 57.
Linebacker Whitney Mercilus intercepted Brees deep in Texans territory and also had Houston’s only sack.
The Saints, by contrast, had six sacks of Watson, two by reserve end Trey Hendrickson.
Saints right tackle Ryan Ramczyk and the offensive line kept 2018 AFC sack leader J.J. Watt from getting to Brees.
“We didn’t do a good job of stopping the run and we didn’t do a good job of stopping the pass,” Watt said, adding that he felt his unit let Watson and the Texans offense down.
Saints safety Marcus Williams, who had a momentum-swinging interception in the third quarter, stayed down on a knee after Johnson’s 32-yard run in the fourth quarter. He left the field on his own after a trainer briefly spoke with him.
Texans: Hosts Jacksonville on Sunday.
Saints: Visit the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.