The Saints escaped the Panthers' lair with a win

The good, bad and ugly from the Saints win over the Panthers

Drew Brees
Michael C Hebert/Saints team site

The Saints continue their playing-with-fire ways and barely escaped Carolina with a 12-9 win over the Panthers. Here's how I saw it play out:

The Good

-Sean Payton dialed up the right play on 4th & inches just before the two minute warning in an attempt to ice the game. The Panthers packed the line in anticipation of an inside run or quarterback sneak. They rushed from the huddle and Drew Brees pitched it to Alvin Kamara for a first down.

-The pass rush was able to harass Cam Newton to the tune of four sacks. The number likely could have been higher if Newton wasn't the size of most tight ends or defensive ends.

-Eli Apple was sent packing from the Giants earlier this year. The former first round pick came up with a key interception in the end zone while playing man coverage on the 6'5 Devin Funchess.

The Bad

-Panthers go for it on 4th & 2 on the 50 yard line early in the first quarter. Not only did they convert, but they scored a touchdown on the play. Christian McCaffrey took the handoff then threw it to a wide open Chris Manhertz for the score.

-Left guard Andrus Peat was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty for pushing a Panthers defender well after the play had ended. The Saints were on their own 48 yard line and had gotten a first down. The penalty pushed them back to the 33 and they eventually had to punt.

-On their second and third possessions, the Saints failed to score touchdowns and had to settle for field goals. Those are drives this team had been finishing to start the season, but have settled for field goals or punts as of late.

The Ugly

-Center Max Unger went to the locker room to be evaluated for a concussion. The team is already without starting left tackle Terron Armstead. Potentially playing the season ending stretch without two starting offensive lineman is scary.

-Brees threw the rare pick two on a two point conversion attempt after they took a 12-7 lead. The Panthers had everything covered, but Brees decided to force a pass in a tight window on the run. It cut the lead to 12-9. Had he been a tad more patient, he had a tight end at the back of the end zone that would've been a better option.

-Tommy Lee Lewis had one job: DON'T FUMBLE! All he had to do was stay in bounds. The Saints could've kicked a field goal. Instead, the fumbled ball goes into the end zone and ruled a touchback. Although it gave the Panthers life, they couldn't take advantage of it.

The Saints now have over a 90% chance to secure homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs. They're playing like a dumpster fire on offense instead of just being on fire like they were earlier this year. They've got some work to do in order to make another Super Bowl run. Good thing it seems as if that road will go through New Orleans.

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Welcome back, Justin! Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander will make his season debut Friday night at the Washington Nationals.

Houston manager Joe Espada made the announcement Wednesday.

“Getting him back is huge because it brings a level of confidence to our team, a boost of confidence that we’re going to get someone who’s been an MVP, a Cy Young (winner) on the mound,” Espada said. “It's (good) for the morale and to get stuff started and moving in the right direction.”

The three-time Cy Young Award winner opened the season on the injured list with inflammation in his right shoulder. He made two rehabilitation starts, the first for Triple-A Sugar Land on April 7 before Saturday’s start for Double-A Corpus Christi.

Espada wouldn't say how many pitches the 41-year-old would be limited to but said they'll keep an eye on his workload.

“We've got to be careful how hard we push him early,” Espada said. “I know he’s going to want to go and stay out there and give us an opportunity to win, but we've got to be cautious of how hard we push him early in the season.”

Verlander wasn’t thrilled with the results in his rehabilitation starts, but he said Monday that those games were valuable in getting him prepared to come off the IL.

He allowed seven hits and six runs — five earned — in four innings against Frisco on Saturday. He struck out three, walked one and threw 51 of 77 pitches for strikes.

Verlander allowed six earned runs and struck out six while pitching into the fourth inning for Sugar Land on April 7.

The Astros have gotten off to a tough start with Verlander and fellow starters Framber Valdez and José Urquidy on the injured list. They enter Wednesday's games last in the AL West with a 6-13 record.

Espada hopes Verlander can be the boost the team needs to get on track.

“It’s good to get him back in the rotation,” Espada said. “With what he means to this club just to get him back on track, getting some innings from him (to) build our rotation with the pieces that we need to move forward is exciting.”

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