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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Rockets get another much-needed win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets went on a redemption tour by beating the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks. But the most pivotal win was against the Mavericks as the Rockets finally showed their true potential. John Wall finally made his return from his injury hiatus and played with a lot of energy. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon combined for 61 points. It was great to see Stephan Silas crack a smile as he was able to beat his former team.

The Rockets clearly missed Wall during his eight-game absense. This season, the Rockets are a .500 team with Wall on the court. Wall is the Rockets' floor general that leads, constructs, and also pushes his teammates to become better.

Wall only played 21 minutes in the 133-108 win over the Mavericks but still had eight assists. Even though Wall only had 7 points, his presence was still felt by finding his teammates for open looks beyond the perimeter. Wall made sure Cousins and Gordon got a plethora of touches. He called multiple actions, so they got open looks from three, which was mainly Gordon. Gordon and Cousins' struggles have been similar but with Wall on the court, they were successful against the Mavericks. According to NBA Stats, Wall posted a 111 offensive rating with the starters versus the Mavericks, which included Gordon and Cousins.

"He's the engine to this team. He gets everybody going. He makes the game easy," Cousins told a reporter after the game. "The pressure that he constantly puts on the defense is a tough thing to deal with."

Gordon has struggled all season long with three-point shooting and relied on his slashing abilities. Saturday night, Gordon made six three pointers against the Mavericks, which was 66 percent from beyond the perimeter. Gordon increased his three-point percentage from 31 percent to 34.5 percent after Saturday night's game. Gordon's 33 points came from being able to attack the entire Mavericks' defense. Willy Cauley-Stein didn't stand a chance against Gordon as he was burned multiple times. Gordon's been a lifesaver for the Rockets in the last two games, and hopefully he maintains his play.

Cousins played fantastic against the Mavericks scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. This is Cousins' first double-double with the Rockets this season. Cousins became the vintage player from the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. It was extremely fun watching Cousins push the ball up the court and aggressively snatch rebounds. Boogie shot 50 percent from behind the arc by making four three-pointers. He was dominant inside the paint as Cousins went 7/8 from the restricted area versus the Mavericks. This was the game Cousins needed after having a poor performance against the Pistons Friday night.

"It was really, really good. He did it all. He's a physical presence on both ends of the floor," as Silas said on Cousins' performance.

David Nwaba and Mason Jones were big factors off the Rockets' bench by having a combined total of 34 points together. Nwaba has been great in transition for the Rockets the entire season. Keep in mind that Nwaba is returning from an Achilles injury he suffered with his former team, the Brooklyn Nets. Nwaba has became a great defender, slasher, and is averaging a career-high nine points per game with the Rockets. He finished with 18 points on Saturday night versus the Mavericks.

Mason Jones has become a fan favorite of the Rockets because of his confidence. Silas is loving the usage of Jones off the bench but wants to find more minutes for him. Jones had a breakout performance versus the San Antonio Spurs with 24 points off 66 percent shooting from the field. He continues to get better with his reads from the point guard position. Jones' knowledge of running the offense has helped his efficiency on the court. He is never afraid to take clutch shots in pivotal moments of the game.

"To have a young kid who can come in and not be afraid of the moment, that's big. That's a tough position to be in as an undrafted rookie. I trust him. It's a good problem to have," Silas mentioned after the game. "He's showing me he's ready. He's a confident kid, and he should be. That's why he's good. He's not afraid of the moment, at all. He can get us organized, run plays, and score the basketball."

Hopefully, the Rockets can sustain their level of play when Victor Oladipo returns against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday. It will be interesting to watch Oladipo and Wall play in the same backcourt.

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