Saints 42, Panthers 10

Saints vs Panthers 2: Good, bad and ugly

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The Saints did their part to improve their playoff seeding by beating the Panthers 42-10. It was the last game of the season so it served as a dress rehearsal for the playoffs. Here are my observations:

The Good

-If you see pigs flying, it's because the refs revered a pass interference challenge. Michael Thomas had James Bradberry beat in the end zone, but Drew Brees underthrew the ball. While they didn't throw the flag initially, it was a pleasent surprise to see them overturn the call considering they've overturned less than 10% of PI challenges this season.
-The defense looked as good as it should have against a team struggling the way the Panthers have this season. The health of the defense is a concern going into the playoffs, but mid-season pickups, backups, and rookies have filled in admirably. The next man up mentality has paid off well. Here's to hoping it continues in the playoffs.
-Extremely classy move by the Panthers organization to honor Carley McCord with a moment of silence before the game. McCord was a Louisiana native who was a sideline reporter for WDSU in New Orleans that covers the Saints. She was one of the five passengers that passed away in a plane crash on Saturday.

The Bad

-On back to back plays in the 2nd quarter, corner Marshon Lattimore made bad plays. He was called for PI when he was trailing Curtis Samuel, didn't get his head around and bumped into him. The very next play, he missed an interception that ricocheted into his chest. Luckily, the Saints recovered a fumble. If not, Lattimore would have been directly responsible for giving up points as the Panthers were in scoring range because of his penalty and failure to secure the pick.

-Kyle Allen was Cam Newton's backup, until he was benched for Will Grier. When Grier left the game with an ankle injury, Allen came in and completed 10 of his first 15 passes. It didn't amount to much for the Panthers, but when a guy who was benched comes in and does that, it's not a good look for your defense.

-While the defense played well against a bad opponent, they had several brain farts late in the game which allowed the Panthers to move the ball down the field. When you have a team down by four or more scores and put the backups in, things won't look as crisp. But when some of those guys are expected to be contributors and/or rotational players, it takes on a different meaning.

The Ugly

-The score at halftime was 35-3. That's uglier than any ugly Christmas sweater you've seen over the holidays. The Panthers were playing with a 3rd string quarterback, but dammit man! At least scratch or pinch your opponent!

-Josh Hill was lined up to block Panthers' edge rusher Brian Burns in the 4th quarter on a 3rd&7. He totally whiffed on the block and allowed Teddy Bridgewater to get sacked. While Brees wasn't in the game, you still have to protect the quarterback better than that. If Bridgewater gets hurt, Taysom Hill would be the backup. That's not a bad thing, but it damn sure isn't a good thing.

-The rain was a factor in the game. Several times I saw players on both teams lose footing and look very shaky when running or moving about. Guys normally wear different cleats that help them gain better footing. This may have caused Grier to injure his ankle as his foot seemed to get caught in the turf when he was sacked by Cam Jordan.

The Saints knew what was possibly at stake and played this game accordingly. While there were some brain farts by the defense here and there, there wasn't much to gripe about. This was a beatdown. It was as if the Saints were sending a message to the rest of the NFC and anyone else doubting them that they're on a mission. Miami is the sight of the Super Bowl. The Saints won their only Super Bowl in Miami. Could we see a repeat performance? Baby steps. There's still at least two, possibly three playoff games to play.

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In the second overtime game of Wildcard Weekend, the Saints managed to lose a thriller at home to the Vikings. Here are my observations:

The Good

-I can't say enough about Taysom Hill. The guy does damn near everything! He lead the Saints to their first touchdown of the day with a nice run, 50 yard pass to Deonte Harris, and was Alvin Kamara's lead block out the backfield on the touchdown run. He ran the ball four times, and produced a first down every time. When Sean Payton says Hill could be Drew Brees' eventual successor, I tend to believe him now more than I did before.

-Demario Davis has been the Saints best defensive player not named Cam Jordan since his arrival. He makes plays all over the field in the run and pass game. His leadership on and off the field has been just as valuable. His touchdown-saving tackle on Dalvin Cook in the 2nd quarter helped hold the Vikings to a field goal instead of tying the game.

-Another one of the better defenders on this Saints defense has been Marcus Williams. The young safety led the team with 10 tackles and was very much needed. He was often tasked with making tackles when the front seven couldn't stop the run game or when his teammates in the secondary couldn't cover their guys. The only gripe I had was him not being able to get over the top when the Vikings went deep in overtime.

The Bad

-The defense got their first opening drive turnover of the season this year. Good, right? Not good when the offense takes over on the Vikings' 37 yard line, drive it inside the 10, and come away with only a field goal. The key play was Brees taking an uncharacteristic sack on 3rd&Goal from 4 yard line. In games like this against tough defenses, you have to take advantage of field position and score touchdowns.

-Missed tackles have become the team's Achilles heel. Whether it's not making a sure tackle that leads to extra yards by a running back or receiver, this defense continues to look like a group of first time tackle football playing kids when it comes to the game's most fundamental principle on that side of the ball.

-Dalvin Cook managed to break the Saints run defense. He ran for 96 yards on 26 carries along with two touchdowns. It broke the Saints down completely. Not only does a pounding run game hurt, but it also opened up the play action pass game as well as other aspects of the Vikings' offense.

The Ugly

-On their first eight possessions of the game, the Saints had nine first downs, 158 total yards, and gave up two sacks plus a ton of pressures. They couldn't get into a rhythm. Outside of the Hill-led touchdown drive, they were gifted three points off the fumble they recovered for a total of 10 points and went into the 4th quarter down 20-10.

-The Brees interception just before the two minute warning for halftime was critical. Not only did he throw into double coverage, but it also allowed the Vikings to take the lead 13-10. They had a chance to tie it after Harris brought the kickoff back 57 yards, but Will Lutz missed a 43-yard field goal attempt. These are the sequences that can be pointed to when teams lose games.

-There were two crucial plays that helped put the Saints in position to lose this game: the Brees fumble in the 4th quarter when they were in field goal range and Will Lutz's missed field goal to end the 1st half. Both took points off the board and both occurred in very critical times. But the worst goes to whoever put Patrick Robinson on Adam Thielen for a 40-yard completion to the 2 yard line.

The Saints have proved to be almost unbeatable at home in the playoffs. That myth was thoroughly busted today. This team has now made an awful habit of losing some of the closest, most heart-breaking playoff games. While there were blown calls by the refs against both teams, none of them would've changed the outcome. Hill was team MVP this game. He helped spur this team on when it seemed like no one else could. If any one player has to take the blame for this loss, it would be Brees. His two turnovers directly impacted the outcome and took points off the board (the fumble), or helped put points on the board for the Vikings (the interception). Another year, another terrible way to end the season for the Saints.

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