Photo by: USA Today
In a game that got off to a very slow start, the New Orleans Saints were able to find their rhythm in enough time to secure their first ever back to back title as NFC South Champions. It was not pretty in the first half, but there is plenty to celebrate as the Saints improve to 11-2 and are back in the top spot in the NFC with the LA Rams losing on Sunday night. I would not consider this game one of those “ugly wins”, because of how dominant they were in the second half. Not to mention, they also won by 14. Despite this not being the typical beginning to end cruise that we have become spoiled with for most of this season, there was still a lot of great play to cover. Even with the sluggish first half, I truly did not find much to criticize in terms of individual players, but we will get to that a little later. With that being said, let’s get to it.
There is no question that Hill deserves to be the first mentioned today. If not for his gigantic blocked punt halfway through the 3rd quarter, who knows what sort of conversation we would be having today. Not only did the block set up the Saints with fantastic field position to get in to the end zone for the first time, but he completely swung the momentum and gave his team a jolt of energy. Hill has been a huge piece for this team in 2018, in a pretty unprecedented way. We have seen teams use other players in Wildcat-like situations over the years, but this is the first time we have ever seen a backup quarterback also line up all over the formation, run the ball, pass the ball, catch the ball, then go and do things on special teams like this. Sean Payton deserves an enormous amount of credit for his ingenuity, but so does Taysom for being a freak athlete.
After not being able to get much going for about three quarters, Mark Ingram got back to being the bruising, hard to tackle, wear you out running back that we have always known. He only had 52 yards rushing, but most of that came in the 4th quarter once the Saints were only down 3, then took their first lead. Even with the low total, he got his yards per carry average back up to an even 4.0 and had the big touchdown run that pretty much sealed the game, while literally dragging a Buccaneer defender from the 5 yard line in to the end zone. The Saints’ success in the past two seasons has come thanks to their balance on offense, so when Ingram is running like he did in the second half, they will be tough to stop.
It was another huge game for Thomas against Tampa Bay, hauling in 11 catches for 98 yards on just 13 targets. He was also making history on Sunday, tying the record for most receptions against a single team in one season with 27, while also breaking the record for most receptions in his first three seasons with 289. He just continues to dominate in what has now become a historical start to his career and also proving that his Twitter handle may be the most accurate in the history of the social media website’s existence. Cant guard Mike.
Speaking of guys that show up every week and make a big difference for this team, Cam Jordan had another great day. Finishing the game with 2 sacks, 2 tackles for a loss, and 9 pressures, Jordan continues to be a nightmare for opposing offensive lines. You can always count on this guy bringing the energy, as he is no question the leader of this young, talented defense.
After a fairly rough first half against the Cowboys in Week 13 and finding himself on the Sinners list, Apple bounced right back and played his best game as a Saint. In 46 snaps on Sunday, he was targeted 9 times and only gave up 1 catch for 21 yards. Jameis Winston took a few deep shots to Chris Godwin, but Apple was running step for step with him every time, taking away any chance of them connecting. He also had two passes defended to go along with his great coverage. This is the guy that the Giants thought they were drafting and the guy Sean Payton and Dennis Allen hoped they were trading for.
Speaking of Dennis Allen, I wanted to quickly throw his name on here and share an impressive stat. The Saints have shutout their opponents in the second half of three of their last four games. That is damn impressive and while the players get tons of well-deserved credit for how good they have been this year, Allen deserves some love, too. Coaching and adjustments play a huge role in a pattern like that. They have not been giving up a ton of first half points, but they are going in to the locker room and pinpointing what they need to improve.
First Half Energy
The entire team finds themselves here, because the first half was just ugly. Despite playing fairly well even in the first half, the defense did allow Winston and the Buccaneers to go right down the field for a touchdown on the opening drive to set the tone. The whole team seemed sluggish, sloppy, and downright disinterested, despite losing to this particular team in their own building with their backup quarterback to open the season. Oh, and they were also coming in to all of that after suffering their first loss since the home opener in an ugly performance on National Television. One would think that the whole team would have come out fired up. Thankfully, they kept their deficit to a manageable 11 points at halftime and made some adjustments in the locker room. Plus, Taysom Hill happened, but we talked about that already.
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