Have your hearts stopped pounding, yet? Sunday’s 34-31 win over the Carolina Panthers was just another one of those nerve-racking victories that the Saints are so inclined to deliver. This one was even worse than normal, as New Orleans led by two scores for a large portion of the game, only fall flat on their face with about five minutes left in the 3rd quarter and in to the 4th. A turnover on downs near mid-field nearly led to a possible game-winning score for Carolina, but luck was on the side of the black and gold. Panthers kicker Joey Slye had a nightmare day for a kicker, missing two extra points earlier in the game, then pushing a chip shot 28 yard field goal to keep the game tied at 31-31. Drew Brees then took over and did Drew Brees things to the lead the team down in to scoring position in just 1:56. Wil Lutz then cashed in on his opportunity to kick his second game winner for the team this year and sending the Saints to a 9-2 record and nearly insurmountable lead in the NFC South.
This is one of those games that we have come to take for granted with Brees. It may not have felt like he lit up the Panther defense, but he finished with 311 yards on 76.9% completions and 3 touchdowns to just 1 interception. Yes, the interception was a bad decision, but the Saints probably don’t pull out that game with any less production. It was his work in the two minute drill to set up Lutz’s game-winning field goal that truly lands him on this list, though. Brees was 6/7 for 62 yards, including two key 3rd down conversions to keep the drive alive. He was surgical.
Alvin Kamara/Latavius Murray
If you look at the 54 and 64 yards rushing for Kamara and Murray, respectively, it may not seem like they had a great game. Take in to account that the two only had 18 carries, combined, and things change. They averaged 6.6 yards per carry, slicing through the Carolina run defense with ease. Why did they only have 18 carries when they were having so much success? We’ll talk about that later in the Sinners list, but they performed well when called upon. Murray’s 26 yard touchdown run on the opening drive was a thing of beauty, clinching New Orleans’ first opening possession touchdown since last year’s Thanksgiving game against the Atlanta Falcons. Kamara added in 9 receptions for 48 yards, three of which came on the final drive to win the game.
We are at the point where 10 receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown has become ho-hum, just another week for Thomas. He remains on pace to break Marvin Harrison’s single season catch record, going over 100 for the year in just his 11th game of the season. Thomas caught those 10 passes on 11 targets, further contributing to his NFL leading 83.9% catch rate.
He has flashed signs of being the dominant tight end the Saints were hoping for when signing Cook to a 2 year, $15 million contract this offseason, but Sunday was without a doubt his best game in black and gold. His 6 receptions tied his season high, but his 99 yards were 25 more than any game this year. They weren’t just solid numbers, though. His catches were phenomenal. He doubled down on the high point touchdown he brought in against Tampa Bay the previous week, snagging multiple balls out of mid air that looked to be going over his head. While Eric Reid had a great game with 15 tackles, he struggled mightily trying to cover Cook. The big tight end also ran him over after one catch, providing one of those crushing hits that you could almost feel through the TV.
Speaking of season highs, Davis tied his own high of 11 tackles in a game this season. The Saints held the NFL’s leading rusher, Christian McCaffery, to just 64 yards rushing on 22 carries for a 2.9 yards per carry average. The only team that had been able to hold CMC to numbers that low is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who boast the #1 run defense in the NFL. Davis was integral in helping stop him, further proving his case to be the most underrated linebacker in the NFL.
Making four extra points and two field goals of 41 and 33 yards is nothing out of the ordinary for Lutz, but hitting a field goal with the game on the line is always cause for praise. Especially when we saw first hand what that sort of pressure can do to a kicker in the same game on the other sideline. He has ice water in his veins and, quite frankly, could be considered underpaid despite being the highest paid kicker in the NFL.
I mostly covered this when talking about Demario Davis, but I feel it’s only fair to mention the entire unit. The performance certainly started with Davis, but the whole run defense deserves a ton of credit. I discussed in my game preview how McCaffrey has become one of those players that you can’t expect to stop. You can only logically hope to slow him down. The Saints did just that, preventing the league’s leading rusher from getting in to a rhythm.
Having to step in for one of the best left tackles in the NFL and protect a 40 year old future Hall of Famer is no easy task. Especially against a team that was tied for the league lead in sacks. Omameh did a pretty good job, all things considered, though. He was credited with allowing a sack, but I thought he played fairly well. I re-watched every snap of his and he deserves credit for holding his own. He will get the call, again, this week, as Terron Armstead will miss his first start of the season with an ankle sprain.
Ted Ginn Jr
The drops are starting to add up. In his 13 year NFL career, Ginn’s reputation is based off of two things. Speed and dropping the ball. Though he has undoubtedly made plenty of key plays for the Saints, his inconsistency is cause for concern. On Sunday, he dropped a deep ball that hit him squarely in his hands that would have been a 40 yard reception, at the very least. It may have been a touchdown, but he dropped Brees’ perfect throw and the very next play resulted in the Tre Boston interception.
After stepping up and playing well in his first action on the outside since the Saints traded for Eli Apple last year, Williams got torched by DJ Moore on Sunday. Moore had two catches for 50+ yards, one a 51 yard touchdown in the first quarter and the other a 52 yarder in the third quarter. Both came on Carolina drives immediately after New Orleans found the endzone to extend their lead to two touchdowns. They allowed the Panthers to get right back in to the game, which simply cannot happen. Williams also allowed Moore’s second touchdown reception that came on a 4th and goal and led to the first tie game since it was 0-0. Thankfully, Marshon Lattimore seems like he has a good chance to return from his hamstring injury that has kept him out of the last two games, so Williams can return to the nickel cornerback position where he excels.
After being the highest graded player on the offense last week against Tampa Bay filling in for injured Andrus Peat, Easton came back down to Earth a bit. He allowed multiple pressures and a quarterback hit. Easton was primarily blocking Gerald McCoy, so I would say that the struggles are understandable. I would not say that they are excusable, though, especially considering he was signed to a large contract with intentions to have him as a starter before the team drafted Erik McCoy. This was only his second game action since 2017, so there is certainly the possibility of being rusty and still trying to get his bearings as an every play starter.
Look, there were certainly some questionable calls by the officiating crew, but 12 penalties for 123 yards is absolutely brutal and unforgiving. Both 4th down attempts for the Saints offense resulted in holding calls, with the second one getting declined because Alvin Kamara got stopped, anyway. A pass interference in the back of the endzone took away an interception and set Carolina up with the ball on the 1 yard line, leading to the game-tying interception. Those are just a few examples, but the bottom line is that the Saints have been uncharacteristically penalized a good bit this year and it has to be cleaned up heading down the stretch. They may have survived shooting themselves in the foot with 123 yards worth of penalties this time, but that would likely cost them the game in the playoffs.
In a season which many around the league believe Payton could win Coach of the Year, he had a rough game. He self-admitted that his 4th and 1 play call late in the game was terrible, leading to a chance for a potential game-winning score for the Panthers. He also challenged an offensive pass interference, which rarely result in an overturn. (I know, I know. Carolina won one later in the game, but that was a load of crap.) But, above everything else, Payton’s decision to abandon the running game when it was extremely effective for the first three quarters was as perplexing as it gets. After taking a 31-18 lead with 5:04 left in the third quarter, the Saints only an the ball four times. One of which was on the final drive to set up Lutz’s game-winner to presumably spot the ball where he wanted it. None of those four running plays were to Latavius Murray, who had averaged 9.1 yards per carry. Murray wasn’t hurt, either, because I noticed in my film study that he was in for multiple snaps, but either running routes or pass blocking. It just made no sense. Thankfully, it all worked out, but Payton has to be upset with himself after watching the tape. He is an amazing coach, though, so I have no doubt that he will bounce right back.
What a win. I wish I could say that I truly enjoyed that game, but I believe I would be lying. I imagine that it was an incredible game for everyone that is not Saints or Panthers fans, but, boy, was that a roller coaster of emotions. I will take a win no matter how they come, though, so we will take it and run straight to Atlanta for a Thanksgiving night matchup with the Falcons. The black and gold absolutely have to have revenge on their minds, so it will be interesting to see how fired up they come out after sleep walking through the last matchup between these two just a few weeks ago.