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.

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This week the NASCAR cup series heads to the world center of racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the inaugural fourth of July version of the Brickyard 400. This is unprecedented for NASCAR considering over the course of 50 years they are usually in Daytona around this time. While this move was met with a lot of criticism from fans, there is a positive to come from this move though, as the sport will hold their first doubleheader with Indycar. This has been talked about for many years and now it has finally come to fruition. Another new facet of this weekend will be the Xfinity Series running on the road course configuration. This could very well lead to the cup series transitioning from the oval to the road course next season should everything go well when the Xfinity series does it. It will definitely be an interesting weekend.

Last week, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin dominated the first-ever doubleheader at Pocono. The two drivers finished first and second in both races with Harvick taking race one and Hamlin winning race two. Both of these races came down to pit-road strategy as Harvick was able to eke out a victory by taking two tires and fuel while his teammate Aric Almirola took four. The next day Denny Hamlin pretty much had the whole field covered as he went on to claim his fourth victory of the season. Overall, the idea of two races in a weekend went over well but for the racing itself, it was hard to watch. One of the main issues I had was how the drivers didn't have to shift this week. In my opinion, that was what made this track so unique. It was an oval that had road course characteristics and it usually produced some pretty good finishes. Hopefully this will be addressed when the new car makes its debut in 2022.

One of the big stories going into this week is the announcement a couple of weeks ago that NASCAR will be moving their all-star event to Bristol Motor Speedway. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a whirlwind of news from the Bubba Wallace story at Talladega, to the doubleheader races last week. A lot of this has put this announcement on the back burner but this is a huge story. The race will be held on Wednesday, July 15th as NASCAR continues with midweek races. This is the first time since 1986 that the race will not be run at NASCAR's home track in Charlotte back when it took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The format will be pretty much the same as all the winners from 2019 and 2020 will all have an automatic birth into the race while the rest of the field will run in the open event the day before. The main event will feature four stages including a 15 lap closer around one of NASCAR's most popular race tracks. I think this move was long overdue and I hope that they continue with it in the future. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with the race at Charlotte but I think a change of pace would be welcomed. I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

As we move on to Indy this weekend, the driver I have winning is Kurt Busch. This weekend will be the 2004 Cup Series champion's 700th career start, and he's won just about every race that there is to be won except this one here at the Brickyard. This week, that is going to change. It hasn't been the most consistent season for the Vegas native, but he still sits tenth in points and right in the thick of the playoff battle. This track isn't his best as he currently has a 19.42 average finish, including a dismal 30th place finish last year. But this week, I think he gets back on track with a victory as he starts second. The veteran has flown under the radar this year, but he has definitely shown spurts where we think he is going to break-out. He also has runs where it seems like him and his team are mid-pack, but there aren't many drivers out there that have the experience he has. And a talented driver like him always finds a way to bounce back. Look for Kurt Busch to take the #1 Monster Energy Camaro to victory lane.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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