Biggest Margins in Saints History

John North

Archie Manning

Sean Payton 2011

Leigh Torrance
The most points ever scored by the Saints or against the Saints in a single game is the same - 62. And the losers' score was the same in both also.

September 16, 1973: Atlanta Falcons 62 New Orleans Saints 7

  • Will Peneguy started his Times-Picayune article on the Saints' opening game of the 1973 season like this.

    There is absolutely no truth to the rumor that the professional football season opened in New Orleans Sunday afternoon.
    Well, maybe it was a half-truth. The Atlanta Falcons opened up ... and how.
    Norm Van Brocklin's usually conservative Falcons drowned New Orleans' alleged Saints in an avalanche of points, scoring a 62-7 victory ...

  • Fortunately, the Tulane Stadium debacle was witnessed by only 66,248, the Saints' smallest opening game crowd ever.
  • Atlanta actually scored its points in just three quarters following a scoreless first period. But that fact is deceptive since the Falcons took over at midfield and the Saints 28 on their first two possessions and reached the 4 and 22 without removing the goose egg from the board.
  • John North's debut as Saints' head coach could not have gone more disastrously. The obviously embarrassed coach said afterward:

    This is real humiliation. I never thought we could be this bad. When you play like this, the Little Sisters of the Poor could beat you. I know it's my job to get 'em ready so we don't make those kind of mistakes, but we work day and night and obviously we haven't gotten a damn thing done. They call themselves professional football players? You've got to be kidding me.

  • As always happens in such a rout, turnovers played a major role. QB Archie Manning threw five INTs, backup Bob Davis tossed one, and the Saints lost two fumbles.
  • The home team scored its TD in Q3 after the Falcons raced to a 31-0 lead. Manning connected with Bill Butler on a 5y scoring pass to culminate a 77y drive.
  • The total offense tally read: Falcons 496y, Saints 187y.
  • The final two Atlanta TDs were scored by former LSU Tiger Eddie Ray. The 240lb FB scored on runs of 8 and 1y.
  • North rallied his troops enough to win five games against nine losses for the '73 season.
  • John survived to keep his job for the '74 campaign and for six games of 1975. His final record was 11-23.

October 23, 2011: New Orleans Saints 62 Indianapolis Colts 7

  • Sean Payton had to wonder if he should coach from the press box permanently after his Saints clobbered the Colts in a Sunday night game at the Superdome. Sean had broken his leg in a fluke sideline collision the previous week at Tampa Bay.
  • Not only was the final score the same as the Saints' worst loss but, as in that game, New Orleans scored the first 31 points before allowing a TD with 1:56 remaining before halftime.
  • The team the Saints had beaten in the Super Bowl two years early was suffering through a miserable 2-14 season that Peyton Manning missed entirely because of neck surgery.
  • The Saints first nine possessions went this way: TD, TD, TD, TD, FG, FG, TD, TD, TD.
  • The first three N.O. scores came on Drew Brees passes - to Marques Colston from the 14 and 4 and then Darren Sproles from the 6.
  • FB Jed Collins plunged over from the 1 before John Kasay booted two FGs sandwiched around the Indy score.
  • Then Brees went back to work, tossing 4y and 2y TDs to TE Jimmy Graham.
  • Sproles added a 16y rushing six before Leigh Torrence topped off the night with a 42y INT return.
  • With Payton high in the sky, QB Coach Pete Carmichael called every play of the 557y offensive explosion. The first down tally ended 36-11 in favor of the Saints.

    Payton afterward: I was real proud of how we played tonight and how we handled the practices (with him absent from the sideline). We had talked about now, at this point, playing our best football because we really felt like, although we were 4-2, we hadn't done that.

  • The 2011 Saints finished 13-3 to win the NFC South. They defeated the Lions 45-28 in the first round of the playoffs before losing in the last minute at San Francisco 36-32.
Saints Firsts: Seven wins; NFC Player of the Year - 1978
Under first-year coach Dick Nolan, who took over for Hank Stram, the 1978 Saints achieved the best record in franchise history to that point: 7-9.
  • Seven wins were two more than the club had achieved in any of the previous eleven seasons in the NFL thanks in large measure to the fact that the NFL expanded the schedule from 14 to 16 games that year.
  • When the Saints beat the Giants 28-17 October 29, they achieved their first winning record (5-4) during any season in franchise history.
  • The victory over NY in the Superdome also created the Saints' first-ever three-game winning streak.
  • Alas, the Saints then lost four straight including a 20-17 loss to the Falcons before the largest crowd to watch the Saints since the Superdome opened in 1975 - 70,323 - in the only home game among the four contests.
  • New Orleans copped two of their last three games to achieve the seven victories and run the franchise record for twelve years to 46-119-5.

The postseason brought another first when QB Archie Manning was named NFC Player of the Year for 1978 and also the NFC MVP by both The Sporting News and United Press International.

  • "Huck Finn in shoulder pads" (as he was dubbed at Ole Miss) put up the best numbers of his eight-year career that season: 3,416y passing, 61.8% completions (291-471).
  • Archie's 344y in the November 5 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers ranked as the NFL season high for any QB.
  • He was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time.

Manning recalled the '78 season fondly.

I was really crazy about Dick Nolan and his coaching staff. ... And I think you've got to give Hank Stram a lot of credit for this, our offense was kind of ready to go. We'd drafted Wes Chandler, we made a trade for Ike Harris, we had Henry Childs, and, of course, Hank had drafted (Chuck) Muncie and (Tony) Galbreath. And we picked up Conrad Dobler in a trade which really solidified our offensive line. So all of a sudden offensively we've got some weapons and we're scoring points. ... I really had great people to throw the ball to and to hand off to.

Highlights from the record-setting season:

  • Game 1: 31-24 victory over the Vikings
    Tom Myers ran back an INT 97y in Q4 to give the Saints a 14-point lead in Q4.
  • Game 4: 20-18 victory at Cincinnati
    John Leypoldt's 27y FG as time ran out provided the winning points. The kick hit the left upright and bounced toward the stands as the referee's hands went up. The Saints trailed 18-10 with a little more than five minutes remaining.

    Wes Chandler runs against the Bengals
  • Game 7: 14-7 victory over San Francisco
    Nolan's "Flex" defense held the homestanding 49ers to only 175y and created six turnovers (four fumble recoveries and two INTs).

    Manning follows Tony Galbreath and Dave Lafary at San Francisco.
  • Game 8: 10-3 victory over the Rams in Los Angeles
    For the second straight week, the defense forced six turnovers (3 fumbles, 3 INTs), costing L.A. the victory despite a 342-118 advantage in total yards.
  • Game 9: 28-17 win at home against the Giants
    The Saints despite gaining "only" three turnovers (all INTs). The home team scored 21 unanswered points the second half.
  • Game 14: 24-13 victory over the 49ers
    1978 first-round draft choice Wes Chandler snagged two TDs passes from Archie - 58y and 12y.
  • Game 16: 17-10 triumph at Tampa Bay
    Manning led a 55y, six-play drive that led to the winning TD - a 2y throw to Henry Childs, the TE's third reception of the possession. The Saints overcame a pair of holding penalties along the way. That's why Archie had four completions for 65y on the 55y march.
Reference: The New Orleans Saints: 25 Years of Heroic Effort - Book I,
Christian Serpas (1991)

Dick Nolan

Archie Manning

Tom Myers

John Leypoldt
Streak Buster: 1980 Opener

Bill Walsh

Eddie DeBartolo

Earl Cooper

Archie Manning leaving the field disconsolate in 1980

Dick Nolan

Russell Erxleben

Steve DeBerg

Tony Galbreath dives over for Saints' first TD.

Tommy Myers

Erxleben after missing final FG.


Bill Walsh approached his second season as 49ers head coach with optimism.

  • Many questioned his hiring after San Francisco went 2-14 in his first season, the same record as the year before and tied for the worst mark in the league.
  • But owner Eddie DeBartolo had no such qualms. I provided the team with, in my opinion, the best football coach in the country, said Eddie D. to a reporter. It's just a matter of patience, just sitting back and waiting for the good times to come. And I think they will. I really do.
  • Eddie thought the team improved in 1979 and was much more fun to watch, especially on offense, Walsh's specialty. Using what would be dubbed the "West Coast Offense" with its short, ball-control passing game, the Niners scored 308 points, 91 more than the previous season.
  • The stats from 1978 and 1979 show the shift Walsh made in the offense.
    49ers Passing Rushing
    1978 190-435-1956y 585-2091y
    1979 361-602-3641y 480-1932y
  • The problem was the defense, which surrendered 66 more than the year before.

Walsh, who had control of player personnel, showed the eagle eye for talent that would help him make the Pro Football Hall of Fame by bringing in several players who would contribute for years to come.

  • Dwaine "Peewee" Board, a light but fast DE, was picked up on waivers from the Steelers.
  • DB Dwight Hicks, cut by the Eagles and out of football, would become an All-Pro FS.
  • Mike Wilson, WR cut by the Cowboys, would play for Walsh the rest of his tenure in San Francisco.

The 49ers also improved themselves through the 1980 draft.

  • DE Jim Stuckey from Clemson
  • RB Earl Cooper from Rice
  • Light but fast OLB Keena Turner from Purdue, who would become a defensive mainstay for a decade

Walsh considered the 1980 opener in New Orleans a strong test of how much his team had improved.

  • The Saints had beaten their NFC West rival twice in 1979, 30-21 and 31-20.
  • Those victories helped New Orleans to finish 8-8, their best in the franchise's 14-year history.

Excitement was at an all-time high in the Crescent City. The heart of the 1979 offense that ranked 4th in the NFL in yardage returned.

  • QB Archie Manning came off his second straight Pro Bowl season.
  • "Thunder and Lightning," otherwise known as RB Chuck Muncie and FB Tony Galbreath, returned after gaining almost 2700y from scrimmage as a combo in '79.
  • Third-year WR Wes Chandler snagged 65 balls for 1,069y while TE Henry Childs caught 51 for 846.
  • Coach Dick Nolan had a problem, however. Three of his offensive stars had missed the last preseason game because of injuries. Muncie nursed a bruised big toe, and Chandler suffered from a sprained knee. Childs would definitely miss the 49ers game with knee and groin injuries.
  • Nolan made what proved to be a crucial decision when he cut veteran K Garo Yepremian, a crowd favorite, and kept second-year K Russell Erxleben, a first-round draft choice in 1979 who had been injured most of his rookie season. Erxleben was expected to handle both the place-kicking and punting duties.

Nolan knew that matching 1979's success would require an improved defense.

  • I think our defense is better in many areas. We have to be a better team. Everyone in the division has improved.
  • On the SF passing attack: They've done well. What they do is throw percentage passes. They run their routes right and pick up their receivers well. They don't make foolish mistakes.

A crowd of 58,621 gathered in the Superdome to see if the Saints could win their third opener in team history.

  • Quarter 1
    49ers QB Steve DeBerg picked on the Saints' LBs all game long with passes to his RBs and TEs. The Saints countered by giving up their run-oriented "flex defense" in favor of a "4-3 Rush" technique designed to put pressure on the QB. But DeBerg responded by calling a running play when he saw the 4-3 defensive formation.
    A Saints' drive to the 49er 13 came up empty when Russell Erxleben's 30y FG attempt hit the right upright.
    A later N.O. drive to the 30 stalled because of a holding call.
    END OF Q1: SAINTS 0 49ERS 0

  • Quarter 2
    Erxleben failed to connect on a 47y attempt. However, a good bit of acting resulted in a roughing the kicker penalty. That enabled the Saints to continue the march that culminated in FB Tony Galbreath diving over from the 1. Saints 7 49ers 0 (9:22)
    The Niners responded with a 69y drive sparked by the running of HB Paul Hofer and rookie FB Earl Cooper. The crucial play came on a 3rd-and-6 when DeBerg hit Cooper with a 15y pass. Cooper ended the drive with a 2y run. Saints 7 49ers 7 (5:23)
    Before the half ended, the visitors drove 55y to take the lead. DeBerg relied almost exclusively on Cooper who caught seven passes during the 11-play march, then ran 6y for his second NFL TD with just seconds left in the half.
    Saints S Tommy Myers: Cooper surprised me. He's a much better back than I thought he was.

  • Quarter 3
    The 49ers scored on their opening series on a 27y pass to RB Paul Hofer over a badly-beaten Reggie Mathis. The advance covered 66y in 10 plays. The Rickey Ray blocked the PAT try. 49ers 20 Saints 7 (9:55)
    Starting from their 26, Manning & Company roared back to another TD, Muncie doing the honors on a 7y sweep. But a high snap threw off the EP try. 49ERS 20 Saints 13 (5:28)

  • Quarter 4
    SF added a 37y FG by Ray Wersching to start the period. 49ers 23 Saints 13 (14:52)
    It didn't take two minutes before Manning threw a 49y bomb to a leaping Wes Chandler. 49ers 23 Saints 20 (13:03)
    Tommy Myers intercepted DeBerg on the next series and four plays later Erxleben hit a 37y FG to tie the game. 49ers 23 Saints 23 (9:47)
    Saints DE Elois Grooms: I felt we were getting ahead of them at that point. But we had them in a sitution where we had to control the ball, and we let them drive the field on us.
    The 49ers drove 61y to set up a 38-yarder by Wersching. 49ers 26 Saints 23 (3:37)
    Beginning from the 20, Manning led an 11-play drive, hitting a key 4th-down pass to Larry Hardy to put the pigskin on the SF 34. Along the way, though, New Orleans was charged with a timeout when T Bob Woods was injured with less than two minutes left, leaving them with just one more. On the next play, Archie completed a pass to Galbreath to the 16 with 25 seconds left. Manning decided not to use his final timeout despite the fact that his offense seemed confused as he frantically gestured them up to the line for the next play. The crowd began chanting, "Timeout! Timeout!" The result was an incomplete pass that ran the clock down to just 4 seconds.
    Afterward, Manning explained: I wanted to take a touchdown shot with a timeout left to protect the chance at a field goal. The problem was it just took us too long to get organized. If you call timeout at that point, then the only play you can run after it and still get a shot at the FG is to pass into the EZ. When you're in that situation, they're going to have five DBs in the EZ. You have to force the ball in there, which means possibly a tipped ball or worse. So I'm thinking, "Run a play." Try to go into the EZ with a pass. If you don't score, you stop the clock. Or look for one of your backs short. If they don't get in, you can still kill the clock and kick the FG.
    Nolan: Archie tried to move Wes to flanker and Ike to split end. He just took too much time.
    So Erxleben, already suffering from a miserable day, came in to try a 34y FG to send the game into OT. He missed wide left and dropped to the turf and hid his face as the crowd booed.
    DeBerg said the 49ers were worried. Last year, we weren't a 2-14 team, but something crazy would always happen to us. If this had been last year, that kick would have been good.
Thus did San Francisco win their first road game after 18 straight losses. The last win came in the Superdome November 13, 1977.


  • Saints
    With Erxleben avoiding the press (Please, I have nothing to say. Please.), his teammates tried to absorb some of the blame for the loss. Myers: You can't blame a game on any one thing or one person. We all had a hand in it.
    Chuck Muncie on Erxleben: He's got to grow up. This came from someone who had some maturing to do himself.
    One teammate said of the kicker, Dammit, I'd rather see him kicking over benches. But maybe that's his way. Whatever it is, he's got to pull it together. I don't know why we ever let Garo Yepremian go. But that's water under the bridge. He's all we got.
    WR Ike Harris on the confusion at the end of the game. If everything had gone cleanly at the line of scrimmage, we could have run another play, called time out with 14 seconds left and had time for one more play with about six or seven seconds left.
    Nolan: I think we're a better team (than last year). We were able to come back. ... Penalties and the big plays killed us. I was pleased with the fact that we moved the ball, but penalties stopped our drives. On his kicker: There was no fault of the center on the missed field goals. Erxleben took his eye off the ball on his first miss. We expect him now to kick the ball higher and deeper. We expect him to conquer his problems.
    Chandler: The crowd noise really got to us. That was the only time I couldn't really hear the call.
    DT Derland Moore, an eight-year veteran: This is the most disappointing loss I have ever had as a New Orleans Saint. There are going to have to be a lot of changes - a lot more concentration, a lot fewer mistakes. We were supposed to be a real good football team this year. ... We stunk. They were smart and played a good game and all tat, but we just stunk.
    DE Elois Grooms: It just seemed like no matter what we used, they were able to hit us.
    CB Clarence Chapman: It's the same type of offense, he [Walsh] used against us last year. When you get a RB on a LB, you've got to expect the back to be able to get open. You can't stop it. You just try to limit it, knowing the percentages are against them, that they'll get tied up inside the 20 or make a mistake. But today we just couldn't get an edge on it.
    LB Ken Bordelon: Their offense is designed to pressure the LBs. They just did a good job of mixing their plays up. They kept us off balance. I don't think we did a bad job defensively. They had a couple of big plays, but we were not embarrassed.
    Myers was not as happy with the defensive effort. We didn't stop the passes to the backs all day long. Our responsibility is to stop the pass. Obviously we didn't do the job today.
    As Erxleben walked into a hallway and approached the door, he slumped back against the wall and sobbed.

  • 49ers
    Walsh: We were spirited, relentless, a very determined team.
    DeBerg threw 29 passes and completed 21 of them for 223y. 17 passes went to RBs Paul Hofer and Earl Cooper. They were doing a good job of covering our wide receivers, and we have the kind of backs I don't hesitate to throw to. If my wide receiver isn't wide open, I don't try to force the football. On Cooper, the Niners' first offensive draft choice of 1980: He's got great hands. We'll continue to use him. He might be the leading receiver in all of football this year. It's very likely that he could be at least the top receiving back. On the Saints' flex defense: The flex presents problems in the running game. But then it's weaker against the pass because the guys have a longer way to go to the ... QB. So that's the problem with the flex. They use it in running down situations. ... They were doing basically what they've been doing for the last three, four years. Steve expressed optimism about the Niners' chances in the NFC West. We do think that things are going to be very positive until somebody proves us wrong. And nobody yet this year has been able to prove that they're a better football team. Asked if Walsh was the reason for the 49ers turnaround: Yes. Also my maturity, the maturity of the whole offense and being under the system - maybe the best system in all of football - for two years. And don't forget those other players. On top of that is our defense and its progress over the past yeare. We're really in the running.
    Hofer on the passing attack: That's what we've done since Bill Walsh came to the 49ers. That's our offense. I'd hate to play defense against our offense.

The "Aints"
Follow up
  • The 1980 Saints would become the "Aints" as they lost their first 14 games - the last an OT defeat in San Francisco 38-35 - before beating the Jets to finish 1-15. Nolan lost his job after 12 games, and O-line coach Dick Stanfel finished up.
  • The 49ers would start 3-0 before losing eight in a row on their way to a disappointing 6-10 season. Along the way, DeBerg lost his job to a second-year QB named Joe Montana, who led the NFL in completion % (64.5). With another excellent draft and Joe under C from the start of the '81 season, the Niners would win the Super Bowl.
Reference: The Genius, David Harris (2008)