Let’s rewind back to March when the New Orleans Saints signed Alex Okafor, a veteran defensive end who happens to be best friends with safety Kenny Vaccaro.
“I’m looking forward to going out there and competing with him again,” said Okafor, who played with Vaccaro for four years at Texas. “I think we bring the best out of each other.”
Now, fast forward to Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. When the defense took the field, Okafor and Vaccaro were chatting before moving to their positions. Okafor said they were doing the same thing they did before their games with the Longhorns — picking each other’s brains.
Then, on the third play of the game, Okafor and Vaccaro did something they never did while at Texas. Okafor sacked Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and forced a fumble in the end zone, and Vaccaro recovered it for a touchdown, giving the friends their first tandem touchdown.
“It was a sweet play,” Okafor said.
Vaccaro and Okafor had also talked before the play in which they combined for the score.
“Basically, we knew we were on the same wavelength,” Okafor said. “We knew something special was about to happen. I was glad that we were able to execute.”
The touchdown set the tone for an incredible defensive performance in a 52-38 Saints victory. Yes, the 38 points wouldn’t indicate a poor defensive effort, but the Lions scored one touchdown on defense and another on special teams.
And the numbers for the Saints defense were eye-popping. They scored three defensive touchdowns for the first time in franchise history, batted 16 passes, tallied five sacks and had five takeaways. And the play with Vaccaro and Okafor was the first mark in three of those four categories.
“There were so many big plays today,” defensive end Cameron Jordan said. “Alex Okafor sack-fumble in the end zone, (and) his best friend picks it up. It was the Texas connection; it was cute.”
Okafor is having a career renaissance with the Saints. He already has 19 tackles, two sacks, a pass defensed and two forced fumbles. The fumbles are already a career high for the fifth-year linemen, and he’s on pace to surpass his career-best tackle total with ease.
Vaccaro noted another play in Week 3 against the Carolina Panthers where he blitzed and helped set up Okafor for his first sack with the Saints. That was an important play, but scoring a touchdown as they did Sunday was the next level.
“If you let both of us blitz, something is going to happen,” Vaccaro said.