Saints 26, Falcons 18

Saints vs Falcons 2: Good, bad and ugly

Saints vs Falcons 2: Good, bad and ugly
New Orleans Saints Official Twitter Account

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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With both Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers making their way back from surgeries that sideline that Astros pitchers last season, and given the team's thin depth in their starting rotation, Houston fans and media have waited on bated breath for scraps of information to leak out of the notoriously secretive organization regarding their progress.

In a week full of mostly Hurricane Beryl-related bad news, the Astros organization had some discouraging news of their own when manager Joe Espada told the media that Lance McCullers has been shut down from pitching after his arm did not respond well to his latest bullpen session. The team says they are "formulating a plan for what's next."

Another Astros starter making his way back from injury is HOF-bound Justin Verlander. Verlander has been on the IL since June 16th with neck discomfort and, while there was initial hope that JV would only miss a start, his status has become increasingly murky as he is still apparently not close to returning.

Shifting from the health questions of the starters to the performance questions of the bullpen, some Houston fans have voiced concern via social media that Astros big-ticket 9th inning pitcher Josh Hader is not looking like a "shut-down" closer. Hader gave up more home runs in the first week of July (3) as he did the entire month of June (2).

In this week's episode of Stone Cold Stros, Charlie Pallilo and Brandon Strange discuss how the fluid dynamics of Astros pitching is impacting the competitive landscape of the division race. To watch the conversation, just click the video YouTube embedded in this article. 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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