METAIRIE, La. -- Ken Crawley's inexperience showed after his first career interception Sunday.
He forgot to keep the ball.
“I was happy. It was great,” said the New Orleans Saints cornerback, who couldn’t remember if he tossed the ball into the crowd or simply dropped it. Either way, he was told someone might have it waiting for him.
Crawley couldn’t help but get caught up in the moment, considering the personal significance as well as just how big that play was for the Saints’ game and their entire season to date.
The Miami Dolphins had steadily marched down the field on their opening drive before Crawley boxed out tight end Julius Thomas on a fade route from quarterback Jay Cutler, then went up and high-pointed the ball to snag it away.
The Dolphins never crossed New Orleans’ 40-yard line again after that, and the Saints won 20-0 to even their record at 2-2.
“That play was an awesome play. That kind of turned the game over,” Crawley said. “They gave us all of their offense on that first drive. From there on out, we just punished ‘em.”
It’s remarkable how far both Crawley and the Saints’ defense have come in just two weeks.
Crawley started five games last year as an undrafted rookie out of Colorado. But he began this year as a healthy inactive for the first two weeks, while the Saints started 0-2 with the NFL’s 32nd-ranked defense.
Then Crawley started in place of injured Marshon Lattimore in Week 3, when the Saints beat the Carolina Panthers 34-13. And he started again in Week 4 ahead of P.J. Williams, who was demoted for an unspecified disciplinary reason, according to the FOX broadcast.
“That would be between us and P.J.,” Saints coach Sean Payton said, when asked to elaborate after the game.
Crawley responded in a big way. He was rated as the eighth-best cornerback in the NFL by Pro Football Focus in Week 3 and the fifth-best in Week 4 (when he and Lattimore both ranked in the top five).
“I was proud of him,” Payton said of the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Crawley. “He played very well. He’s done a real good job. From Year 1 to Year 2 ... we’ve seen him in training camp, you’ve seen him really locate the ball.”
Crawley said he feels like he has matured a lot from his rookie year, when he was admittedly adjusting to zone coverages after playing mostly man coverage in college.
And he said it was tough to be inactive the first two weeks.
“But I was visualizing me being out there and making plays and just being on the sideline, helping my teammates out and telling ‘em what to see," Crawley said. “It was motivation for me when I come back out there to just show ‘em what I got.”
Crawley insisted that neither he nor the rest of the Saints’ defense will get complacent after two good weeks that followed two awful ones. The Saints allowed a combined 793 passing yards and six passing touchdowns to quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Tom Brady in the first two weeks.
“I’m feeling good. I just can’t get happy off these first two. Our goal is the Super Bowl, playoffs. So we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Crawley, who said he thinks the defense lost focus in the first two games after playing so well in the preseason. “I feel like we were kind of getting too hyped up about preseason, about how we shut out a lot of teams and (made) progress from years back. We just lost track. But I feel like now we’re getting somewhere.
“We took the first step last week. This was the second step. And we gotta keep it moving.”
Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro, one of the veteran members of the young secondary who has also bounced back a bit from a personal rough start, agreed that the Saints can’t settle for .500.
“It’s early," Vaccaro said. "I don’t want to gas anything up.”
But he was proud of the resilience the defense has shown after those first two games, when their biggest problem was allowing deep passes against coverage breakdowns.
“Didn’t I tell you? Didn’t I tell you we’d bounce (back)? I told you,” Vaccaro said. “We weren’t on our details. And we just got back to the basics, our fundamentals. Because preseason and training camp was so strong, we just got back to the things we did then. That’s good enough to win football games, and we understand that.
“We understand we’re not gonna give up any long runs and explosive passes. We gave up a few, but that’s not gonna beat us -- not with our offense. You can’t dink and dunk. ... You’re gonna run out of time, because we’re gonna put up touchdowns.
“I don’t how many yards (Miami had) on that first drive, but it got to zero when we got that turnover.”