NEW ORLEANS -- In their 50 years of existence, especially in the early seasons of searing misery when they were more Keystone cops than professional football players, the New Orleans Saints have found some very creative ways to lose.
Sunday's 25-23 loss to the Denver Broncos -- when a potential game-winning extra point with 1:22 left by kicker Wil Lutz backfired into two points the other way -- just may merit a special niche in the Saints' Hall of Shame.
With the score tied at 23-23, and Lutz lining up for the go-ahead extra point, Denver safety Justin Simmons hurdled long snapper Justin Drescher, blocking the kick with his chest, and rookie safety Will Parks returned the carom 84 yards for a two-point defensive conversion to lift the Broncos to a wild 25-23 victory at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
"It's a desperation play because all you have to do is touch one guy (and the block is nullified)," Denver coach Gary Kubiak said. "The kid did a great job timing his leap and wins the game for us. ... It's something you work on all the time. There are certain situations in games where you say that it's worth the risk. That was one of them."
Parks ran along the New Orleans sideline with a friendly blocking caravan, but it appeared he may have stepped carelessly out of bounds when he did not have to do so.
Several Saints players and coaches, playing forensic scientists, pointed to the white sideline marker where they thought Parks had stepped out, but upon video replay, the wild scoring return was upheld.
"You are always worried," Kubiak said.
There was a different type of concern for the coach on the losing end.
"It's a tough way to lose at the end like that," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "It's hard to tell (whether or not Parks stepped out of bounds), but I think those guys are doing their best to look at it. He's got white shoes on, so there's not a real good picture. I was looking at the same ones you were looking at."
Saints quarterback Drew Brees had tied the game at 23 by marching New Orleans 75 yards in six plays for the final touchdown. The apparent game-winner was a 32-yard strike to Brandin Cooks, who beat the double coverage of cornerback Bradley Roby and safety T.J. Ward to hang on.
"I'm still in disbelief a little bit, especially when we scored (a touchdown) at the end," Brees said. "I don't want to say it was a game-winner, but it (should have) put us up by a point. There was nobody to catch him. At that point, I'm thinking, 'Get the ball back with a minute-22 left and let's do it again.'"
But the Broncos recovered Lutz's onsides kick and ran out the clock.
The Broncos took advantage of two fourth-quarter fumbles by Saints rookie wide receiver Michael Thomas, converting them into a tying touchdown -- a 2-yard pass from Trevor Siemian to Demaryius Thomas -- and one of the two fourth-quarter field goals by Brandon McManus.
McManus' 37-yard field goal with 2:50 left put the Broncos on top 23-17 but that gave Brees more than enough time to work his magic. Brees completed 21 of 29 passes for three touchdowns, but he was picked off twice, once on a deflected pass.
Overall, the Saints' four turnovers led to 13 Denver points, and Siemian's two interceptions led to 10 New Orleans points.
The Saints led 17-10 and appeared headed for a clinching score in the fourth quarter when Thomas caught a pass over the middle and ran into Broncos' territory, but cornerback Bradley Roby punched the ball from Thomas' grasp, and safety Darian Stewart picked it up and returned the fumble 28 yards to the New Orleans 27. The fumble was costly, leading to Siemian's short scoring pass to Thomas, tying the game at 17.
After the Saints went three-and-out, Siemian led the Broncos 43 yards on 10 plays to set up McManus' 28-yard field goal, putting Denver on top 20-17 with 3:23 left. Michael Thomas' second fumble set the table for McManus' 37-yard field goal with 2:50 remaining, putting Denver up 23-17 and leading to the final heroics.
Siemian completed 25 of 40 passes for 258 yards and displayed a lot of toughness in the face of a heavy Saints' pass rush. Siemian was sacked six times and hit hard several other times while trying to throw.
Siemian was thrilled the Broncos got off to a 10-0 lead, keyed by a 13-play, 85-yard opening drive that ended with his 13-yard throw to Jordan Taylor.
"That was one thing we really focused on -- starting fast, especially on the road," Siemian said.
NOTES: Twenty-one of the Broncos' 22 fourth-quarter snaps came inside Saints' territory. ... The Broncos controlled the clock, running 83 plays to the Saints' 51. They also held a 39:22-20:38 edge in time of possession. ... Denver K Brandon McManus has seven career field goals of at least 50 yards. He kicked 50-yarder in the first half to put Denver up 10-0... Saints QB Drew Brees had not been intercepted in 118 attempts until Denver S Darian Stewart stepped in front his first-quarter pass intended for RB Travaris Cadet.