Saints 34, Panthers 31

Saints vs Panthers 1: Good, bad and ugly

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

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.

Friday the 13th. Triskaidekophobes' worst nightmare. It's silliness. Like believing in the Texans as Super Bowl contenders.

So how did the Texans go from toppling the 10-1 Patriots one Sunday, to having the 4-8 Broncos humiliate them the next? That is what mediocrity is all about, Houston Texans style. Imagine how ugly it would have gotten had the Broncos not had to deal with the intimidation factor of playing under a closed roof on a gorgeous autumn afternoon. There was a surprising number of no shows for an 8-4 home team off of two quality wins. Coincidence? Certainly not entirely. Ticket holders who opted to stay away joined essentially the entire team in no-showing.

With their record 8-5 the odds still favor the Texans making the playoffs. Winning two of the remaining three games does the job (and secures other one of those cute little AFC South Champion banners!). Of course, the odds favored the Texans not trailing 31-3 at home at halftime to a Broncos' team that hadn't scored more than 24 points in any game all season. Winning one to finish 9-7 could mean a Wild Card. Yippee!

They are only three point underdogs at Tennessee Sunday. If the Texans' feeble pass rush can't pick it up the Texans' D figures to be D-stroyed again. Ryan Tannehill's career revival with the Titans has been astounding. What reasonable person would have believed that entering this game Tannehill would be playing better quarterback than Deshaun Watson over the last month? Defending Derrick Henry's power running is a big problem, and that has made Tannehill devastating in the play action passing game. Good chance the Texans will need to score more than 28 points to win. They last did so eight games ago in their 31-24 victory at Kansas City. The Titans look like the better team right now, but week to week in the NFL who knows.

As I put it on the radio show earlier this week, in an either or scenario which would you prefer: the Texans do win their division, maybe win a wild card weekend home game, and if they do then take a shot at not getting crushed at Baltimore again. OR…the Texans lose twice to the Titans, lose in Tampa, tumbling from 8-4 to an 8-8 playoff miss and Cal McNair decides to fire Bill O'Brien?

Tough spell for Astros

Given that Oakland wasn't a possibility, Gerrit Cole picking the Yankees is the Astros' worst case scenario. If you're thinking nine years 324 million dollars is nuts, of course nine years is crazy long, but the Yankees are a money printing machine. Forbes magazine estimate for 2018 had the Yankees generating roughly 300 million dollars more in revenue than did the Astros.

Another bottom line: with Cole the Yankees are markedly better, without him the Astros are markedly worse.

The Astros are in a payroll bind, hence the trade Carlos Correa rumblings. In isolation, trading Correa would be dumb. Yes he has proven brittle. But Correa is also super-talented, 25 years old, and for two more years in Major League Baseball terms, dirt cheap. Trade Correa for what? A desperate play to escape the 13 million dollar anvil that is Josh Reddick's 2020 contract? Offered for nothing in return the Astros have no takers for Reddick. As a must take in a Correa deal, Reddick would drive down the return the Astros could get.

The Astros would be seeking a cheap, multi-years team-controlled stud young starting pitcher for Correa. They're not getting one for him. Guys like the Dodgers' Walker Buehler, the Cardinals' Jack Flaherty, the Braves Mike Siroka, the Indians Shane Bieber, those teams wouldn't swap their guy for Correa straight up. They'd laugh at an Astro offer of Correa and Reddick. Reds' starter Luis Castillo's name has been thrown against the wall. He's had one really good full big league season. At 27 years old, Castillo isn't eligible for arbitration until 2021. Why would the Reds trade him for Correa who can walk as a free agent after the 2021 season? Mets starter Noah Syndegaard? Probably not available, and he can become a free agent the same time as Correa.

It's always easy to burn someone else's money, but the Astros' best play is keeping Correa and swallowing the Reddick 13 mil if necessary, rather than taking 70 cents on the dollar back in a trade. Jim Crane and his partners can make back any loss in profit margin during this Astros' window of excellence by cutting costs when the next rebuilding time comes around and/or by selling the team down the line for several times the 610 million dollars they paid to buy it.

Buzzer Beaters

1. If you can get a ticket, UH-Oklahoma St. at Fertitta Center is the place to be Sunday afternoon. 2. The NBA has captivated very few around here so far this season, but the relentlessness of James Harden's scoring pace (37.6 points per game) is stupefying. 3. Absurd actual phobias: Bronze-Somniphobia, fear of sleep Silver-Cherophobia, fear of happiness Gold-Arachibutyrophobia, the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth


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