Saints 34, Panthers 31

Saints vs Panthers 1: Good, bad and ugly

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The Saints moved to 9-2 and the Panthers fall to 5-6. One moves closer to the NFC playoffs, while the other moves towards setting up offseason plans. Here are my observations:

The Good

-It took the offense until the 11th game of the season to score a touchdown on its opening drive. Some of that had to do with Drew Brees missing time, but Brees started several games this season. This team has historically gotten off to a fast start in the Sean Payton/Brees era.

-At the beginning of the 4th quarter, Brees had the same number of incompletitions as touchdown passes: three. Brees ended the day going 29/36 for 295 yards and three touchdowns. As of this writing, he's tied with Tom Brady at 531 career touchdown passes and sits eight behind Peyton Mannings 539.

-Michael Thomas continues to prove why the Saints signed him to a huge deal this past offseason. Another ho-hum day of 10 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. He now has 104 catches for 1242 yards and six touchdowns on the season. He's on pace for 151 catches which would break Marvin Harrison's record of 143.

The Bad

-P.J. Williams gave up a 51-yard touchdown pass to DJ Moore in the 1st quarter. Williams looked as if he was playing cover 2 when he should've been in man or cover 3. I say that based off his and safety Marcus Williams' reaction after the play.

-Cam Jordan got called for an unnecessary roughness penalty when Demario Davis had Kyle Allen sacked on a 3rd down. It went from forcing a punt and the Saints adding to their 17-9 lead, to the Panthers running the clock to zeros and pulling within two points before the half.

-Brees forced a throw deep middle of the field on a Thirrd and10 in the 4th quarter with the team up 31-24 that was picked off. The Panthers turned that into a game-tying touchdown. This was aided by a pass interference call in the end zone. When the offense makes a mistake, the defense can't compound it and vice versa.

The Ugly

-The continued ignoring of the obvious on pass interference reviews is sickening. Jared Cook was called for one that wiped out a 41-yard gain on third and four. Payton challenged the call which the refs inexplicably upheld. Both players had normal downfield hand fighting, but nothing worthy of a flag in the first place. The refs continue to make a mockery of this process but stubbornly refusing to overturn obvious calls. To rub salt in the wound, they decided to call PI in the fourth quarter on a failed Panther third and goal. Both plays had the same amount of contact, one was called, one wasn't.

-Terron Armstead was carted off the field with a left ankle injury. 300-plus pound men carted off with lower leg injuries is one thing. It's a total different story when it's your All Pro/Pro Bowl left tackle. The left side of the offensive line is already missing left guard Andrus Peat (broken arm). Those two injuries are more key when your starting center is a rookie.

-Penalties were an Achilles heel for this team again today with 12 accepted penalties for 123 yards, five of those penalties giving the Panthers a first down. That was about 20% of the Panthers' total first downs in the game. This team will make the playoffs, but won't go very far if they can't stop shooting themselves in the foot.

The Saints needed this game to keep pace with the other top teams in the NFC, and to help lock up the NFC South. They barely scratched out a win. They're now in position to wrap up the division on Thanksgiving Day with a win over the Falcons. However, they're still in the hunt for homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs. They'll be watching the 10-1 49ers and the 9-2 Seahawks battle in the NFC West, as well as keeping an eye on the 8-3 Packers. This team has what it takes to win the NFC, but there's still work to do as far as limiting the stupid mistakes and fine tuning their execution.

NFL Playoffs: Conference Championship

NFL Playoffs: Conference Championship good, bad and ugly

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The NFL Conference Championship Weekend is their Final Four. You don't get the games played in the same place, but there is a buzz in both stadiums because each team knows theyarethisclose to a Super Bowl. Here are my observations:

The Good

-Chiefs' quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the real deal. We gawk at his arm strength and ability to make throws in spaces and from angles that'll challenge physics. But his athleticism and escapability are underrated. Prime example was his 27-yard touchdown run right before halftime. Not only did he evade the rush and scramble to the outside, but he tightroped along the sideline, cut back inside, then carried a couple defenders across the goalline. He led the Chiefs in rushing yards with 56.

-49ers running back Raheem Mostert has played on five different teams in his five year career. In his second stint with the 49ers, he's turned himself into an valuable piece of that offense. Although they use a stable of backs, it was Mostert who set a new team postseason rushing record with 196 yards and there was still almost 20 minutes of football left to play!

-We will have a great matchup of coaches in the Super Bowl. Head Coaches/Playcallers: Chiefs' Andy Reid vs 49er's Kyle Shanahan; defensive coordinators: Chiefs' Steve Spagnuolo vs 49er's Robert Saleh. The meeting of the minds with two weeks to prepare should give us a good game. Key word: should. Please guys, no blowouts.

The Bad

-Derrick Henry was dubbed "King Henry" after his recent rushing performances. He was unceremoniously removed from his throne by the Chiefs' defense. 69 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown with a long run of 13 backed up the tough talk from Chiefs' defensive end Frank Clark who said earlier in the week leading up to the game that Henry wasn't hard to tackle.

-Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers looked a little off. He missed a few key throws, including an interception that ended any hope they had of coming back because it led to the 49ers having a short field and going up by four scores instead of the Packers being down by two scores. It was a minute before halftime, but the way the 49ers were running the ball, that pick was a backbreaker.

-The NFL fined Chiefs' offensive lineman Eric Fisher $14,037 for an unsportsmanlike conduct for his double-fist beer touchdown celebration during last week's win over the Texans. I thought they turned the corner when they started allowing more touchdown celebrations. So let me get this straight: you can choreograph a dance routine with the whole team, but can't pretend to chug beer from a league sponsor? Talk about hypocrisy.

The Ugly

-With the score 28-17 Chiefs with 7:44 left in the game, 3rd&6 on the Chiefs' 40-yard line. Titans' corner Tramaine Brock Sr. fell down and was called for a holding penalty on Sammy Watkins as he was falling. The worst part of that play: Watkins broke open and Mahomes found him for a 60-yard touchdown. Later when they were down by 11 with 3:59 left, Brock was called for a 41-yard pass interference on 3rd&10 with the Chiefs on their own 19-yard line. Those plays sealed the deal for the Titans.

-49ers running back Tevin Coleman was carted off the field in the 2nd quarter with an injury to his right elbow. An arm injury must be pretty damn bad if you're carted off. Thoughts and prayers to the running back I thought the Texans should've signed. Major props to him wanting to come back to the sidelines to be with his teammates wearing a sling.

-The 49ers outrushed the Packers 185 to 51...IN THE FIRST HALF! They were up 27-0 and had "only" passed for 40 yards. That's all they needed since the Packers couldn't stop the run. Mind you, they ran the ball 22 times to get the 185 yards. Packers defense looked like wet brown grocery bags trying to hold two gallons of milk.

And then there were two. Through all the strife and struggle, we have our Super Bowl 54 will be a matchup of arguably the best on their respective sides of the ball: 49ers and their defense vs the Chiefs high octane offense. However, don't sleep on the 49ers' ability to score, or how well the Chiefs' defense has been playing as of late. Ultimately, I have the sads. We only have one meaningful football game left. Hopefully the 49ers and Chiefs give us something to talk about. I won't mind seeing a 24-21 or 31-27 game. As long as we don't get a multiple score blowout, I'm good. Props to the Titans and Packers for putting up a good fight. It just wasn't good enough. From 32 to two. And there will only be one.

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