Saints 42, Panthers 10

Saints vs Panthers 2: Good, bad and ugly

Saints vs Panthers 2: Good, bad and ugly
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Drew Brees

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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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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