NEW ORLEANS - We felt it would be a shootout. The final score did not disappoint, though the Saints did.
Carolina truly controlled the line-of-scrimmage on both sides of the football en route to a 44-38 win over New Orleans. Going in, the feeling was that was an "attitude" game. The Panthers clearly were ready to play. I think the Saints were. They certainly did not quit. They simply were not good enough. You score 38 points, you should win in the NFL.
Carolina put themselves in the second-place position in the NFC South with the 44-38 win, tying the Saints but sweeping them on the season. The Panthers will head into the offseason feeling that they are a better team than New Orleans.
The Panthers amassed 538 total yards as the Saints defense earned the ignominious honor of yielding the most yards in an NFL season in the history of the league (7,042). Clearly, this Saints defense needs a total renovation. No problem with Cameron Jordan and Curtis Lofton. Take your pick of changes, otherwise.
Here are my Quick Takes:
**Running back Jonathan Stewart was inactive for Carolina. They did not need him. Jabari Greer and Akiem Hicks inactive for the Saints.
**The Saints signed cornerback A.J. Davis signed from the practice squad to the active squad. Pierre Thomas was placed on injured reserve prior to the game.
**Chris Ivory got the start at running back after being inactive for the past few weeks. He was in for one play, a play-fake, 18-yard completion from Drew Brees to Marques Colston. Mark Ingram then replaced him.
**Thomas Morstead richly deserved his Pro Bowl nod. On his first punt since getting the honor, he scuffed a punt 26 yards.
**Carolina promptly drove 15 plays, 76 yards, taking 7:06 off the clock but the Saints stiffened. Despite having a first-and-goal at the New Orleans 2-yard line, the Panthers could only muster a field goal. The Saints have been pretty good in red zone defense this season, perhaps the only saving grace for this motley defense.
**Chris Ivory ran 11 yards for a first down on the Saints next possession. On the next play, Darren Sproles lost six yards on a sprint draw. Interesting play-calling. Sprint draw on 1st-and-ten? It killed the drive.
**Marques Colston had two more drops, killing a drive. The guy has enjoyed another solid season but he drops too many balls and has a penchant to fumble. That said, he tied Eric Martin with 532 receptions for the most catches in New Orleans Saints history.
**Lance Moore went over 1,000 yards receiving for the first time this season, finishing with 1,041 yards. He is solid. His 51-yard catch in the third quarter was a thing of beauty. He displayed tremendous concentration and great hands, considering he was being pulled down. He had four catches for 121 yards while Jimmy Graham led the way with nine receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown. He came up 18 yards short of another 1,000 yard season.
**Joe Morgan caught an eight-yard pass on a quick out route. That will crush his season average per reception. Devery Henderson caught a pass in the fourth quarter, perhaps the final reception of his long career in New Orleans.
**Brees threw his 40th touchdown pass of the season, the second time in his career that he has done so, tying Dan Marino. He is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 40 or more touchdowns in consecutive seasons.
**Brees has thrown for over 15,000 yards in the last three seasons, a league record. He eclipsed 5,000 yards for the third time in a season. He finished with a league-high 5,177 yards passing and a league-best 43 touchdown passes but led the league with 19 interceptions. Brees has now led the NFL in touchdown passes four times, tied for the all-time high in NFL history with legends Len Dawson, Brett Favre, John Unitas and Steve Young.
**Carolina had 281 yards in the first half and had the ball for 19:10--and trailed by three points, largely thanks to Jonathan Vilma's pick-six. Vilma read Cam Newton beautifully, reacted quickly, was all over it and it was easy for him.
**The fumble by Greg Olsen in the third quarter when the Saints were up 24-13 was the pivotal play of the game. Olsen clearly fumbled though the officials initially ruled him down by contact. The Saints challenged and were right--it was a fumble. By rule there are two parts to the replay. The first part is down by contact or a fumble? The second part is whether Johnny Patrick recovered the ball clearly. Though Patrick picked it up and was running with the ball, perhaps for a scoop-and-score, replay could not determine if his right foot was out of bounds or in bounds. Based on replays we saw in the press box and the entire fan-base in the stadium saw on the big screens in the 'Dome, Patrick appeared to be in bounds. Guess referee Al Riverson did not see that replay that everyone else did. As a rule, the Saints lost the timeout, which stunk as well. Call it bad luck but the Saints made their own luck the rest of the way and the Panthers made theirs, dominating the Saints from that point forward.
**Brees made a very bad decision trying to fit one in to Moore which resulted in a Charles Godfrey interception. No idea what he thought he saw on that play.
**It is official. The Saints need a special teams overhaul. Their coverage teams have been lousy late in the season. Their return game is not good. You cannot lose the kicking game and expect to win.
**After Drew Brees led the Saints to a score to make it 44-38 on a touchdown pass to Marques Colston, the Saints decided to go with an onside kick. It failed. Will Herring, who has been poor all season long, got himself a personal foul after a failed onside kick, effectively killing any Saints chance of a miracle comeback. It gave Carolina the ball at the New Orleans 33-yard line. Then, Broderick Bunkley was penalized for illegal use of the hands. Would you have considered kicking deep and playing defense? Despite not having any timeouts, you had the two-minute warning. Carolina was going to run the ball and you knew it. Get a stop and get the ball back with a minute or so to go, with a fighting chance, with the ball in Brees' hands.
**The Saints run defense was pathetic, putrid, awful, terrible, awful--choose your adjective. DeAngelo Williams did whatever he wanted, carrying 21 times for 210 yards and two touchdowns. This, from a guy that came into the game with just 527 yards for the entire season. He had runs of 65 and 54 yards and was running free all afternoon. You cannot win in the NFL with this kind of defense. Johnny Patrick has proven he cannot play, barring significant improvement.
**Carolina converted 10-of-16 (62.5%) on third-down conversions, a gaudy number. The Saints defense could not get off the field.
**One potential bright spot is Isa Abdul Quddus. The guy shows closing speed against the vertical passing game and has shown that he can play. He gets to the ball. Perhaps Malcolm Jenkins has something to think about moving forward?
**In his final three games of the season, Brees found his footing, passing for 11 touchdowns with just one interception.
**The Saints finished a mediocre 4-4 at home in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. That simply is not good enough.
**Based on tiebreakers, the Saints finish as the third-place team in the NFC South and will thus play a third-place schedule in 2013. Home opponents will include Arizona, Atlanta, Buffalo, Carolina, Dallas, Miami, San Francisco and Tampa Bay. Road games will be at Atlanta, Carolina, Chicago, New England, New York Jets, Seattle, St. Louis and Tampa Bay.
**Finally, the Saints will pick 15th overall in the upcoming NFL draft. Five teams ended up 7-9 but the Saints will pick last among those teams due to having the toughest strength-of-schedule among those five teams. More bad luck!
Of course, there is good news. By losing, the Saints will end up higher in the NFL draft order. This is the first losing season for the Saints since 2007, when they similarly started 0-4 and finished 7-9. The Saints were third in the NFL in scoring--and went 7-9. That tells you that the other aspects of the team were woefully inadequate.
The season from hell is over. No team faced as much adversity in league history, none, based on the actions taken by Roger Goodell against the Saints, whether deserved or undeserved.
Many will claim that the Saints are really better than 7-9, given the circumstances they had to endure. As Jim Mora and Bill Parcells have both noted, you are what your record says you are. The Saints earned their 7-9 record. They lost to Kansas City at home. They were swept by Carolina. They could not stop anyone.
Now, it is incumbent upon Sean Payton to come in, like Mighty Mouse, and save the day. It will take more, including personnal changes to improve a poor defense and to improve the wide receiving corps as a whole, among other aspects of the team. He will have to decide who his running backs are. Four is too many and five is way too many. He will have to evaluate his coaching staff. Make no mistake about it--Payton has been taking copius notes and checking them twice. Some aspects of the Saints were naughty and his response won't be nice. Losing will not suffice. Some are bound to pay the price.
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