Michael Thomas was clutch. Michael C Hevert, Saints website
In the 22nd meeting of Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, The Saints dropped the ball and fell to 7-2 with a 26-9 loss to their heated division rival. Here are my observations:
-Michael Thomas had 13 catches on 14 targets for 152 yards. He was the lone bright spot in a dim game for the Saints. Brees was 32/45 for 287 yards, but failed to throw a touchdown pass. Thomas is the Saints top receiver. Everyone knows he's going to get the ball and be targeted a high percentage of the time, yet he still dominates. If he's not considered one of the top receivers in the league, something is wrong with that list.
-Marcus Williams came from the middle of the field to pick off Matt Ryan with four minutes left in the game and the team down by 14. Eli Apple lost his man on a go route and Williams made the save. This was the type of play that makes Williams one of the better players on this defense and one of the best young safeties this team has ever had.
-Julio Jones is one of the best wide receivers in the game. He's usually a matchup nightmare for the Saints and anyone else he goes up against. After Marshon Lattimore got hurt, the rest of the defensive backs picked up his slack and held Jones to three catches on nine targets for 79 yards, with 54 of those yards coming on a play in which Apple bumped into a teammate and caused Jones to be wide open.
-By the start of the 2nd quarter, the Falcons ran for a season first half high of 67 yards. They ended the first half with 85 yards (21 more than their previous first half high) and totaled 143 yards, which is 74.5 yards more than their season average of 68.5 per game.
-The Saints average 6.6 penalties (tied for ninth) and 51.2 penalty yards (4th) per game. They had 11 penalties today for 85 yards. Four of those were illegal use of hands to the face. This is something that has to be addressed. It's not normally called this frequently, but every one of them were legit. It's similar to holding because it can be called on every play.
-Speaking of the run game, the Saints only managed 52 yards on 11 carries themselves. They came into this game averaging 114.3 yards per game. The fact that they were playing from behind all game played a large part in this stat. Only running the ball 11 times is no excuse. The Falcons averaged giving up 118.4 yards a game on the ground. Sean Payton seemed to panic and keep throwing instead of sticking with the run.
-To say the Falcons' pass rush has been anemic this season would be an understatement. They came into this game with seven sacks. While the Saints' pass protection, and Brees' pocket presence, has typically yielded low sack numbers. They gave up six today and had only given up 12 all season.
-228 yards and nine points are numbers you'd think you'd see in the 1st quarter, not a game total. When Brees has played a complete game this season, the Saints averaged over 500 yards and 30.5 points per game. Not a good look, especially when you're in the race for homefield advantage in the NFC.
-Lattimore (hamstring) and Andrus Peat (arm) both left the game in the first half. Neither returned to play and it showed. Jones got all his catches and yards after Lattimore got hurt, and Brees was sacked five times after Peat went out. Not to mention left tackle Terron Armstead has been sick all week. This made for a disaster along the offensive line.
This rivalry will always be intense. Over the last two decades, the Saints have dominated the series 24-15. For a 1-7 team to play and dominate a 7-1 team in their buiklding is unacceptable from a Saints point of view. Props to Falcons' head coach Dan Quinn for having his team prepared. Sometimes a team needs a kick in the pants to get them going. The Saints were coming off a bye, played at home, and lost to a division rival who was heading towards a top draft pick due to their record. Next week when they play Tampa, I'll be interested in seeing how this Saints team comes out.
Can the Texans make the playoffs in DeMeco Ryans' first season as head coach? Photo by Getty Images.
Back in the 1950s, NFL Commissioner Bert Bell said his goal for the league was parity and “on any given Sunday, any team could beat any other team.”
Bell’s quote was turned into a football movie, Any Given Sunday starring Al Pacino in1999. True to form, the film broke even at the box office.
Fast forward, while it’s not an absolute must-win game, it’s a “given” that the Houston Texans should give serious thought to defeating the 9-5 Cleveland Browns on Sunday at NRG Stadium.
With just three games remaining, Commissioner Bell would smile at the AFC standings with three teams bunched on top with 8-6 marks: Jaguars, Colts and Texans. Their records may be even but they’re not equal.
As things stand today, because of an intricate tiebreaker system that would have Albert Einstein switching his major to phys ed, the Jags have a 76-percent chance of making the playoffs, the Colts are 64-percent likely to play in the post-season, and the Texans are at 52-percent for the playoffs.
Talk about parity (with a boost from the NFL’s expanded playoff system started in 2020), with only three weeks left in the season, only three of the AFC’s 16 teams are eliminated from the post-season: Jets, Titans and Patriots.
Vegas oddsmakers have been in a tizzy over the Texans-Browns game. The opening line had the Texans favored by 2-1/2 points. Heading into the weekend, the Browns now are the betting choice by 3 points, a wild 5-1/2 point swing. Of course, it was assumed that Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud would escape concussion protocol and play against the Browns. That doesn’t appear the case as Case Keenum (or Casey Keenum as one Houston news anchor calls him) will be behind center for the Texans.
Keenum led the Texans to a last-minute victory over the Tennessee Titans (cosplay Houston Oilers) last week. So it’s not like the Texans are in desperate straits at quarterback.
Playing quarterback has been hazardous duty in the AFC this season. All three leaders in the AFC probably will start understudy quarterbacks on Sunday. C.J. Beathard likely will replace Trevor Lawrence who’s in concussion protocol for the Jaguars. Gardner Minshew replaced Colts starter Anthony Richardson early this season and has hung onto the job.
As Ron Popeil used to say, wait there’s more. Veteran Joe Flacco has risen from the scrap heap and will quarterback the Browns against the Texans on Sunday. Like Keenum, Flacco led his team to a narrow win last week. But Flacco had three interceptions against the Bears, while Keenum threw only one pass to the other team last week.
Seven teams in the AFC will qualify for the playoffs. Right now, the Texans are No. 8, on the outside looking in. The Jaguars are the No. 4 seed, the Colts are No. 7. The Texans still have a better than even shot at the post-season with their final two games against the Titans and Colts.
If they lose Sunday to the Browns, the Texans’ playoff chances drop to 23 percent and as Scarlett O’Hara would say, they’ll have to depend on the kindness of strangers to make the post-season.
But if the Texans win Sunday, it will lock up a winning season for the Texans. Their pre-season win total was just 5.5 games.
If the Texans win out, they will match their total wins for the past three seasons … combined. And DeMeco Ryans might start making room for his Coach of the Year trophy.