NEW ORLEANS — When the time came to dial up a big play for Michael Thomas, the Saints’ leading receiver answered the call.
He even had a flip phone planted in the padding of each goal post, just in case.
Thomas caught a late 72-yard touchdown reception and then celebrated with a cellphone in a throwback to another famous New Orleans play, and the streaking Saints handed the Los Angeles Rams their first loss of the season with a 45-35 victory on Sunday.
"I loved the celebration myself, and I think it was the perfect time when I did it," Thomas said. "We love our fans and we always want to bring them back great memories."
Drew Brees passed for 346 yards and four touchdowns in New Orleans’ seventh straight win, and Thomas finished with a club-record 211 yards receiving. But what happened after the last of his 12 receptions stole the show in a wild shootout between two of the NFL’s best offences.
Thomas’ long TD came on a pivotal third-down play with about four minutes left. The Rams (8-1) seemed to expect the Saints (7-1) to run a play closer to the first-down marker and double-teamed dynamic running back Alvin Kamara.
Brees recalled thinking, "Kamara’s doubled, Mike’s singled, Mike’s by him, here we go."
Thomas ran free behind Marcus Peters, caught Brees’ long throw virtually in stride and ran straight to the goal post to begin his reprise of Joe Horn’s Sunday night TD celebration against the New York Giants in 2003.
"I paid a tribute to him, tried to get the crowd going a little bit more, set the tone, have fun out there, giving people a show," said Thomas, who eclipsed Wes Chandler’s club record of 205 yards receiving against Atlanta in 1979. "You got to have fun. All these guys just catching touchdowns and celebrating with each other, having fun, getting the crowd involved. I felt like I had an opportunity to make it happen."
Like Horn, Thomas was penalized, but the Rams never threatened again.
P.J. Williams, who forced a fumble and had an interception for a touchdown in New Orleans’ previous victory at Minnesota, broke up a fourth-down pass intended for Brandin Cooks, virtually sealing the result. The former Saints receiver, who caught six passes for 114 yards and a TD, fell to his knees in frustration.
Kamara scored three times, twice on runs and once on a 16-yard catch-and-run — all in the first half.
Rams defensive players lambasted themselves for poor tackling at inopportune times, particularly on Kamara, who gained 116 yards from scrimmage. But coach Sean McVay sought to put the season’s lone loss in a positive light.
"We’re good. We love it. You find out about yourself when you have a little bit of adversity," McVay said. "I know that everybody in that locker room is going to respond the right way. Sometimes setbacks can be setups for comebacks — and that’s the way we look at it."
Jared Goff, who passed for 391 yards and three TDs, nearly led the Rams to an extraordinary comeback amid the din of the Superdome.
Los Angeles rallied to tie it at 35 with 21 unanswered points in less than 21 minutes, starting with Greg Zuerlein’s 56-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
The Rams opened the second half with an 11-play touchdown drive capped by Malcolm Brown’s 18-yard catch in which he hopped over safety Marcus Williams along the sideline and kept his balance long enough to reach the ball across the goal line.
After another Los Angeles field goal, the Rams forced a second straight punt and tied it on Cooper Kupp’s 41-yard catch-and-run along the sideline.
The Saints regained the lead on Wil Lutz’s 54-yard field goal, and then forced the Rams’ first punt of the game with about five minutes left.
Both teams scored touchdowns on each of their first two possessions, starting with Kamara’s 11-yard run and Todd Gurley’s 8-yard score.
Gurley’s score have him a TD in a Rams-record 12 straight games, passing Hall of Famer Elroy Hirsch.
The tenor changed when outside linebacker Samson Ebukam stripped Saints running back Mark Ingram and defensive Aaron Donald recovered on the Saints 22. But four plays later, Johnny Hekker was ruled down just short of a first down on a fake field goal.
"We’re an aggressive, attacking-type team, and if we feel like some of these looks present themselves to try to do that, we have confidence in our players," McVay said. "Unfortunately, it didn’t work out."
The Saints responded with Brees’ quick hit over the middle to rookie Tre’Quan Smith from 4 yards out for the first of three successive New Orleans touchdowns.
After Zuerlein missed a 51-yard field goal attempt, the Saints scored on Brees’ 13-yard pass to Ben Watson with just more than a minute left in the half.
Alex Anzelone’s diving interception of Goff’s pass over the middle set up Kamara’s short TD run with 26 seconds left in the half.
"We as a defence didn’t play well enough," Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. "The first half, we gave up way too many points and put ourselves in a bad position."
Rams edge pass rusher Matt Longacre was being evaluated for a concussion during the second quarter.
Rams: Host Seattle on Sunday.
Saints: Visit Cincinnati on Sunday.