Saints 26, Falcons 18

Saints vs Falcons 2: Good, bad and ugly

Saints vs Falcons 2: Good, bad and ugly
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It started fast and furious for the Saints as they extracted revenge on the Falcons from an embarrassing home loss earlier this year in the form of a 26-18 win. This win also clinched the NFC South and playoff berth for the Saints. Here are my observations:

The Good

-Taysom Hill opened the game with a blocked punt that put the Saints on the Falcon 30 yard line after the defense forced a three and out. On that possession, Hill then caught two passes for 12 yards and a touchdown via a three yard shovel pass from Drew Brees. Hill later added a 30 yard touchdown run right before halftime. He's a football player. There is no position for a guy that's played nine different ones.

-The defense returned to their once dominant form from earlier this season. They sacked Matt Ryan nine times, intercepted him twice, and forced him to fumble on a scramble. Best part was that most of the havoc was caused by the youngsters. Marcus Davenport had two sacks and forced the fumble, while rookies C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Shy Tuttle had the interceptions. Mind you, Tuttle is a 300lb undrafted rookie defensive tackle who made quite the play on the ball.

-Speaking of the defense, hats off to the senior member of the defense and its best player Cam Jordan. He led the way with four of those nine sacks with two of them coming on the Falcons' final possession that snuffed out any chance of a comeback. He's now up to 13.5 sacks on the season. There's a reason why Jordan got extended this past offseason.

The Bad

-Jared Cook dropped a touchdown pass from the 4 yard line mid way through the 2nd quarter. Brees scrambled just outside the pocket to create an open throwing lane, but Cook had a brain fart and let it slip through his hands. The Saints had to settle for a field goal and a 10-6 lead. Cook has been pretty reliable, but in the words of the great Day-Day "playas mess up too."

-Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara both dropped passes on the same drive two plays apart on their initial possession of the second half. On 1st&10, Thomas failed to hold onto a simple curl route. Kamara dropped his on 3rd&5 after running an angle route against a linebacker. Neither guy can blame contact, only their hands failing them uncharacteristically.

-Missed tackles and sack opportunities were an issue. While the missed tackles didn't kill them this time around by giving up big plays, Ryan was able to get away from the rush too many times for a guy not known for his athleticism. Although the pass rush did a good job of sacking Ryan, it could've been that much better.

The Ugly

-The Saints had only three penalties in the first half...for 72 yards! An unnecessary personal foul for 15 and two dumb pass interference calls for 22 and 35 yards respectively. They ended the game with seven penalties for 111 yards. This is beginning to be almost comically bad. Only one of them cost the team points. Much better teams will take advantage of this if it isn't cleaned up. How many times do I have to write this?!?

-Marshon Lattimore left the field to go receive fluids, but later returned. Kiko Alonso was seen riding the exercise bike and trying to loosen up, but didn't return. The potential Lattimore injury made me hold my breath. Turns out it was more of a conditioning/sickness deal. Health is a major concern moving forward. With so many key guys already out, this team can't afford to lose any more.

-The game was already decided with about three minutes left and the Saints up by 11. The Falcons tried an onside kick, recovered it, but were called for offsides. On the rekick, they recovered it again! Kamara dropped the first one and made a "business decision," in the words of Tony Dungy, and decided not to collide with the linebacker in an attempt to recover the ball. After a field goal to draw within 8, they recovered a THIRD onside kick! Sean Payton was seen chewing out his special teams coach soon after.

Stop me if you've heard this before: Saints/Falcons game starts with a Falcons three and out, followed by a blocked punt and a Saints touchdown. Familiar? I'm sure Saints fans know EXACTLY what I'm talking about. As intense as this rivalry is and for a prime time Thanksgiving game, Mercedes Benz Stadium sure did sound a lot like the Mercedez Benz Superdome. Atlanta and New Orleans don't like each other as cities, which makes this rivalry even more red hot. I understand their team was 3-8 coming into this game, but to let "Who Dat" chants and cheers for the visiting team break out all game long? That would NEVER happen in New Orleans! Clinching the division and a playoff berth before December is impressive, but there's more work to do. Up next for the Saints is a battle for the #1 seed in the NFC against the 49ers in New Orleans. That should be one helluva game!

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Following Houston's 6-4 road trip, the Astros returned home to finish the first "half" of the season before the All Star break hosting Florida and Texas. Houston's road trip was filled with clutch performances in New York, dominance in taking 3 of 4 in Toronto, and a dose of close calls and tough realities with a short-handed team against Minnesota.

Now the Astros hope to take care of business against the lowly Marlins and division rival Rangers. The Texas series, in particular gives Houston the opportunity to reassert their hold on the #2 spot ahead of the Rangers who have won their last 5 games in a row (as of the time this was published). Both teams have won 7 of their last 10 games and hope to catch a free-falling Seattle team to overtake the division lead.

Dana Brown told the media last week he expects both Justin Verlander and Kyle Tucker to be reactivated following the All-Star break but Tucker's updates continue to be more promising than Verlander's and MUCH more promising than Lance McCullers. Astros manager informed the media this week that McCullers has been shut down from throwing after his arm did not respond well to his recent bullpen sessions and the team is formulating the plan for what's next for the embattled pitcher. McCullers hasn't pitched since the 2022 postseason and underwent season-ending flexor tendon surgery last June. McCullers is under contract with Houston until 2026.

An eventual return for Kyle Tucker would spur a juggling act from Joe Espada to find a proper balance of time for all his outfielders, none of which have separated themselves offensively. Chas McCormick had a great month of June recording an .804 OPS but that run looks more like an anomaly as his scuffles have continued over the past 2.5 weeks, recording just 4 hits over his last 32 plate appearances.

While Jake Meyers has wowed fans and teammates with his glove this season, his offense has hit a skid, hitting just .184 with a .565 OPS over the past month. After rookie Joey Loperfido's torrid debut, he too has struggled with the bat, hitting just .216 with .599 OPS over the same time period.

An unexpected bright spot has been the recent play of first baseman Jon Singleton. Over the last 4 weeks, "Big Jon" is batting .302 with an .802 OPS. It's worth mentioning that Singleton's season numbers are better than Florida's Josh Bell, who drew interest from Astros fans over the past several seasons as a potential answer at first base. Bell has 135 more ABs this season so its not quite an apples-to-apples comparison but there's no doubt Singleton's contributions were sorely needed following the release of Jose Abreu.

To watch part 1 of this week's episode of Stone Cold StrosStone Cold Stros, just click the video above or to listen to the entire episode on podcast, search "Stone Cold Stros" in your favorite podcast app or click one of the following links.

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