NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Take one: Fast start , strong finish
Their start was fast; their finish was strong- exactly what the Saints have always preached.
The first drive of the game was the Saints best opening drive of the season. They marched 75 yards on seven-plays and ended it with a 26-yard Latavius Murray touchdown run. The biggest play was the 3rd & 11, when Drew Brees flushed the pocket and found Ted Ginn Jr. downfield on a strike for thirty. Starting faster had been a point of emphasis all season. On Sunday, they were finally able to get it done.
Their final drive of the game was simply masterful. After an early sack that pushed them all the way back to their 14-yard line, Brees found Mike Thomas for 14. Then, he checked it to Alvin Kamara on the next two plays for four and eight. Another check down to Kamara was well defended and lost four yards.
That made it third and six, Brees then adjusted a slant route to Thomas to a slant and go- it popped wide open. Thomas caught the ball for 24 yards. The next play could have been the game-winner, but Brees misfired to Ginn on a deep post in the end zone. Next up, it was back to Kamara for 16 yards on a screen. Then, they went with their only running play of the drive: Kamara gained nine on the play. That put the ball at the Panthers’ 15. Brees ran to the line to clock the ball with three seconds left.
On came Wil Lutz from 33 yards away.
It’s the second time this season Brees led the Saints on a game-winning drive, and the 50th time he’s done it in his career.
Take two: Jared Cook coming into his own
The biggest development to come out of Sunday was the dynamic play of Jared Cook. We’ve seen it in spurts this season but it all came together Sunday. Cook caught six passes for 99 yards and every one of them felt like a big play.
The route on his twenty-yard touchdown reception was incredible.
Lined up at the traditional tight end position with his hand in the ground, Cook ran a clean out-and-up pattern that some receivers can’t pull off. He completely turned Eric Reid in coverage. Brees fired a strike that Cook caught in the end zone.
His other highlight moment came later in the third when he ran a dig route, but Brees airmailed the throw. Everyone in the stadium expected an overthrown incomplete pass, except Cook. He soared high to grab the ball out of the air for twenty yards.
No other position has garnered more concern from the fan base than wide receiver outside of Thomas, I’ve continued to maintain that receiver will eventually be their pass-catching tight end. On Sunday, Cook showed why.
Take three: Penalty problem
Second straight home game where the Saints committed double-digit penalties. Against the Panthers, they committed 12 for 123 yards. The yellow flag was a big reason why Carolina was able to hang around in a game where the Saints felt like they were dominating.
Cam Jordan’s personal foul call negated a third down sack by Demario Davis. That happened at the 3:51 mark of the second quarter. The Panthers then bled the rest of the clock out to score a touchdown right before halftime to cut the Saints lead to, 17-15. Had the Saints gotten the sack there, they would have gotten the ball back 17-9 with a chance to pad their lead before halftime.
On two fourth down calls, the Saints were correctly flagged for holding. They were called twice for false starts. Regardless of the perception of the officials Sunday, not all 12 penalties were on the zebras. A lot of that was undisciplined football by the Saints for the second straight time at home. That’s something that must get corrected as they hit the back stretch of their season.
Take Four: Challenging reviews
No way I’m letting the officials completely off the hook for their effort Sunday. It really boiled down to two circumstances. Early in the game, Brees found Cook down the seam for a 42-yard beauty, but Cook was called for offensive pass interference. The call was bad as it appeared Cook and the defender were just hand-fighting downfield and that defender slipped. However, given the precedent that had been set around the NFL, I thought Sean Payton should not have challenged the call. He did and lost.
But on the Panthers final drive, Ron Rivera did the exact same thing. Only this time he wanted to challenge a no call that C.J. Gardner Johnson interfered with his receiver. For the record, it appeared to be interference; he did impede the receiver’s progress. But again, it did not look to meet the egregious standard needed to overturn a call or no-call on the field. Essentially, it wasn’t the NFC Championship situation. Apparently New York disagreed and ruled it interference.
This had us talking on our podcast about the situation surrounding this reviewable penalty scenario. Does timing of the penalty carry a bigger weight? Cook’s offensive pass interference happened in the first quarter, CJGJ’s interference happened late in the fourth. If so, then the NFL should come out and say that.
Fortunately, it didn’t cost the Saints the game, but rest assured, this topic will be huge this offseason for the league.
Take Five: other observations
- Cook’s offensive pass interference was bad, but Michael Thomas’ on his two-point conversion was even worse.Thomas ran a back-shoulder fade and essentially brushed the defender’s hands off of him to turn and make the catch. Much like Cook’s penalty, it appeared the officials threw the flag based off the defender’s reaction. Bradberry slipped as Thomas turned.
- Brees could not have placed the ball any more perfect on his fourth quarter toss to Ginn. Ginn dropped the pass, but there should’ve been a pass interference call on Donte Jackson.
- Speaking of Jackson, he and Reid were badly fooled in the first quarter on a play action fake to Kamara. Tre’Quan Smith got behind them both for an easy touchdown.
- Without Christian McCaffrey, I’m not sure the Panthers would have more than two wins this year. He finished with 31 touches on the game. The move he put on Vonn Bell near the goal line was really impressive.
- The Saints have dealt with Terron Armstead injuries before but in most cases they’ve had Andrus Peat available to kick outside. If Armsted’s ankle injury lingers and they don’t have Peat, that could be an issue for the team.
- With two missed extra points, a missed two-point conversion and a missed chip shot field goal at the end, the Saints were fortunate the Panthers left seven points on the field. Those points proved critical at the end of the game.
- P.J. Williams really struggled on the outside Sunday. Early in the game, while in a cover three zone, Williams got caught looking in the backfield while Moore ran right by him on a go route. Kyle Allen connected with him for the Panthers first touchdown.
- Marcus Williams has become a ballhawk this season but his tackling leaves a lot to be desired. He missed badly on two McCaffrey plays. One came near the goal line, the other came on the sideline.