The 2011 New Orleans Saints season was the franchise's 45th season in the National Football League, the 36th to host home at the Louisiana Superdome and the sixth under head coach Sean Payton. During Week 16, Drew Brees broke the single season passing record set by Dan Marino. Brees ended the season with 5,476 passing yards, an NFL record. The team also broke the record for offensive yards from scrimmage with 7,474 and Darren Sproles broke the record for all purpose yards, with 2,696. The Saints also finished second in scoring for total points with 547, and finished second for points per game with 34.2 points and sacks with 24.
The Saints improved on their 11–5 finish from a season earlier and won the NFC South Division with a 13–3 record, and went undefeated at home, so there was much talk of the Saints potentially winning a second Super Bowl in three seasons. Despite their impressive record, however, New Orleans failed to receive a first-round bye due to losing tiebreakers with the San Francisco 49ers for the #2 seed in the NFC behind the 15–1 Green Bay Packers. The Saints won their first playoff game against the Detroit Lions in the Wild Card round but fell to the 49ers on a last-minute touchdown in the Divisional Playoffs. The Saints finished with a final record of 14–4.
^[a] The Saints acquired this first-round selection in exchange for its second-round selection (#56 overall) and a 2012 first-round selection.
^[b] The Saints acquired this third-round selection and a conditional 2012 sixth-round selection in a trade that sent OTJammal Brown and a 2011 fifth-round selection (#155 overall) to the Washington Redskins.
The Saints (champions of Super Bowl XLIV) began their 2011 campaign at Lambeau Field, taking on the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in the annual NFL Kickoff Game. New Orleans trailed early in the first quarter as Packers QB Aaron Rodgers completed a 7-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Greg Jennings. The Saints answered with quarterback Drew Brees finding wide receiver Robert Meachem on a 31-yard touchdown pass, but Green Bay struck back with Rodgers completing a 32-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Randall Cobb. New Orleans clawed their way back into the game in the second quarter with a 30-yard field goal from kicker John Kasay, followed by running back Darren Sproles returning a punt 72 yards for a touchdown. However, the Packers came right back with running back James Starks getting a 17-yard touchdown run.
The Saints led off the third quarter with Kasay's 38-yard field goal, but Green Bay replied with Cobb returning a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown. Afterwards, New Orleans kept fighting as Brees connected with wide receiver Devery Henderson on a 29-yard touchdown pass. In the fourth quarter, the Packers replied with fullback John Kuhn getting a 1-yard touchdown run. New Orleans tried to rally as Brees found tight end Jimmy Graham on a 5-yard touchdown pass, but Green Bay's defense held stuffing a potentially game tying Ingram run on the 1-yard line on the last play of the game to preserve the win.
With the loss, the Saints began their season at 0–1.
Coming off a loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Saints hosted the Chicago Bears in week 2. Falling early, Drew Brees responded with a 79-yard touchdown pass to Devery Henderson. The Saints defense got six sacks on Jay Cutler and wore down the Bears defense to beat them 30–13. This was the first time in Drew Brees' career that he beat the Bears with the Saints. With the win, the Saints improved to 1–1.
A NFC South rivalry rookie Cam Newton and Drew Brees go head to head for the first time. After an early lead Deangelo Williams starts a comeback with a 69-yard touchdown run. Former Carolina kicker John Kasay kicked two straight field goals, and then Cam Newton ran for a touchdown. Then, Cam Newton threw a touchdown pass to take the lead. Then, Drew Brees led the Saints down to the redzone and with less than a minute, threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Thomas to win the game.
IND – Reggie Wayne 3 receptions, 36 yds, 0 touchdowns
NO – Marques Colston 7 receptions, 98 yds, 2 touchdowns
IND – Antoine Bethea 7 tackles, 4 assists
NO – Jonathan Casillas 2 tackles, 3 assists, 1 sack
With the win, The Saints improved to 5–2 In a game against the currently winless Indianapolis Colts (0–7), the Saints began the game with recovering a fumbled snap by Curtis Painter. The Saints would convert that turnover into a touchdown with a 14-yard pass from Drew Brees to Marques Colston. The Saints would continue again with a 4-yard TD pass from Drew Brees to Marques Colston. Then Delone Carter fumbled and the Saints recovered for their second fumble recovery of thee game, and their next TD of the night came with a 6-yard pass from Brees to Darren Sproles, as the Saints convert another turnover into points begin the game and end the first quarter 21–0. The Saints would continue with a Jed Collins 1-yard run and a field goal, but the Colts would score with a Delone Carter 2-yard run. The Saints would end the first half with another John Kasay field goal. The Saints would outscore the Colts 28–0 in the second half, with the Saints outscoring the Colts 14–0 in each of the second half quarters. Drew Brees would throw a 4-yard and a 2-yard TD pass to Jimmy Graham. In the fourth quarter, Darren Sproles ran 16 yards for a TD, and with under 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Leigh Torrence intercepted a pass from Curtis Painter and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown as the Saints ousted the Colts 62–7 and wins the game with the most points in a single game in franchise history. Drew Brees finished the game 31/35 for 325 yards and 5 touchdowns with no interceptions. The Saints also rushed for 236 yards with 2 touchdowns, with Mark Ingram's 91 yards, Darren Sproles' 88 yards and Pierre Thomas' 57 yards. The New Orleans Saints offense gained 557 yards of total offense, and ran 73 plays, and gained 36 first downs and was also 6/8 in third-down efficiency.
After a franchise record setting performance the Saints went to face another winless team, the St. Louis Rams. This time, however, the Rams pulled off one of the best upsets in the NFL season. A defense kept the Saints scoreless for the first half. The second the Rams sealed the deal with an interception return for 27 yards. With this the Saints fell to 5–3, however this would be the last time the Saints would lose in the regular season.
Entering the postseason as the NFC's #3 seed, the Saints began their playoff run at home in the NFC Wild Card Round against the #6 Detroit Lions, in a rematch of their Week 13 contest.
New Orleans trailed early in the first quarter with Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford completing a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Will Heller. The Saints answered with a 2-yard touchdown run from running back Darren Sproles, but Detroit replied with Stafford completing a 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Calvin Johnson. New Orleans would close out the half with a 24-yard field goal from kicker John Kasay.
The Saints took the lead in the third quarter with quarterback Drew Brees finding wide receiver Devery Henderson and tight end Jimmy Graham on a 41-yard and a 3-yard touchdown pass, while the Lions tried to stay close as Stafford got a 1-yard touchdown run. Afterwards, New Orleans would pull away in the fourth quarter with a 17-yard touchdown run from Sproles, followed by Brees connecting with wide receiver Robert Meachem on a 56-yard touchdown pass. Detroit tried to rally with Stafford completing a 12-yard touchdown pass to Johnson, and following this, the Lions attempted an onside kick, but the Saints recovered the kick. The Saints were still able to drive down the field and closed out the game with a 1-yard touchdown run from running back Pierre Thomas.
With the win, New Orleans improved its overall record to 14–3.
NFC Divisional Playoff Game: at San Francisco 49ers
NFC Divisional Playoff Game: New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers – Game summary