New Orleans Saints (7-2) vs. Atlanta Falcons (3-6)

Sunday, Nov. 22, Noon


Radio: WWL 105.3 FM/870 AM; Spanish KGLA 105.7 FM/830 AM


Tenacious Saints turn to Hill, Winston at QB

Throw the records “out the window,” the archrival Atlanta Falcons are coming to town, and they’d love nothing more than to further dampen what’s been a tough week in New Orleans by stealing a win in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. But the Saints, down but not defeated by the loss of sure first-ballot NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, are determined to run their win streak to seven and remain in the thick of the NFC playoff race through the remainder of the season.

The Saints are coming off a 27-13 win over the 49ers, in which Brees was sidelined for the second half. On Monday, it was reported he had a collapsed lung and five broken ribs – two on his left side from the massive hit by 49ers defensive lineman Kentavius Street and three on his right side sustained the week before against Tampa Bay.

Jameis Winston came into the game in relief of Brees, and, while it’s been reported that Taysom Hill start this week against the Falcons, Winston will likely be the Saints’ main signal caller until further notice. Best estimates say Brees can make it back in two to three weeks, while the worse case scenarios could keep him out up to four to six weeks.

While they would rather have Brees under center, the Black & Gold won’t panic. They have assembled one of the best rosters in franchise history. Even with star players sidelined they’ve built a 7-2 record which currently has them ranked first in the NFC South and second in the NFC playoff race. They’re loaded with offensive talent, and the defense is getting stronger game by game.

In their remaining seven games, New Orleans only faces one opponent that currently has a winning record – Kansas City (8-1) in Week 15. The remainder includes games against the Falcons (3-6), Broncos (3-5), Falcons (3-6), Eagles (3-5-1), Vikings (4-5) and Panthers (3-7).

Head coach Sean Payton is a play-calling genius and will tailor game plans to his team’s strengths.

This week is all about getting Winston and Hill up to speed and comfortable running the offense. The Saints don’t need either to be Superman; they have multiple weapons at their disposal and are familiar with the Falcons, both having spent their careers in the same division.

While he’s shown off his many talents, it will be interesting to see Hill’s development as a quarterback, if he is indeed the starter. Is Payton sending up a smoke screen Does he plan to play Hill under center for quarter or half, or will he continue to rotate QBs depending on the field position, down, and distance? It’s most likely coach is simply keeping the Falcons defense from game planning around one QB.

Winston has been a hot and cold quarterback in his six-year NFL career. The big armed, 6’-4”, 231 pound Heisman Trophy winner was the top overall draft pick by the Bucs in 2015, but was let go in the offseason when Tampa signed Tom Brady. The 26-year-old had a 28-42 record under two head coaches. At times he’s shown brilliance; at others he’s made bone-headed mistakes. Last season, he threw for 5,109 yards and 33 touchdowns, but he also threw 30 interceptions. He had LASIK surgery to improve his vision and signed a one-year deal with the Saints – worth $1.1 million and up to $3.4 million in incentives – in hopes of resurrecting his career. At the time, he said learning under Brees and head coach Sean Payton would be “like a Harvard education in quarterback school.” Now he has a grand opportunity to show what he’s learned.

As he prepares for the Falcons, Winston steps into a situation dramatically different than any he’s faced in his career – he is not expected to have to carry his team to victory. He can rely on the MVP-caliber play of Alvin Kamara, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year wide receiver Michael Thomas, the gadgetry of Hill’s “Swiss Army Knife” play, and he can do it behind a dynamic offensive line that is one of the best in the league, a luxury he didn’t have in Tampa. In addition he has a top four defense, including a rush defense ranked .2 yards shy of the NFL’s best. The pass rush has blanketed opposing QBs and the pass defense is steadily improving as the season progresses.

While Atlanta has only won a third of their games, they have a potent offense that is ranked second in the NFL in passing yards per game. The Falcons can be a dangerous team – and they’d love to win this rivalry game, but the Saints will be up for this one. A win will keep them in the thick of the race for the top seed in the NFC and tighten their grip on the 2020 NFC South crown.


At the Line of Scrimmage

Here’s a snapshot of how the teams match up based on their average points, total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards per game and where they rank in the NFL.


When the Saints have the ball

PPG           TYPG        PYPG         RYPG

Saints Offense     30.1 (4)      373.1 (12)  252.3 (15)   120.8 (12)

Falcons Defense 27.9 (24)    410.0 (29) 310.3 (31)   99.7 (6)


When the Falcons have the ball

PPG           TYPG        PYPG         RYPG

Falcons Offense  27.0 (14)    396.8 (5)   290.0 (2)    106.8 (18)

Saints Defense    23.7 (13)    308.2 (4)   231.4 (15)    76.8 (2)


Goal to Geaux

Moving the ball and owning time of possession will be important this week for two reasons – first, it will allow Winston to ease into running the offense. That likely means a lot of runs and short passes to get going, but with Winston’s arm and Payton’s willingness to gamble, don’t be surprised to see more long passes. Second, it will keep the Falcons’ offense on the sideline. Look for defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to pressure Atlanta QB Matt Ryan with the pass rush and try to keep him off balance and limit their scoring threat.


Three & Out – Thoughts on Week 10

  1. Linebacker Kwon Alexander, acquired in a Nov. 9 trade with the 49ers, started his first game with the Saints against his former team and looks like he’ll be a significant addition to the defense.
  2. The officials missed a blatant targeting call when 49ers safety Jimmie Ward lowered his shoulder to hit Saints wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith in the head. Smith was motionless for a few moments after the hit and didn’t return to the game due to a concussion.
  3. What a special teams performance by Saints undrafted rookie receiver Marquez Callaway, whose two muffed punt recoveries against the 49ers helped to swing and seal Sunday’s win.


Quotes of the Week

“Just get your helmet and go. It was just like that. So I got my helmet, got prepared, started throwing, because we had the first possession in the second half. And that was that.” – Saints quarterback Jameis Winston on learning he would start the second half after the Saints left the locker room after halftime.

“I am proud of him (Jameis Winston). He led us to an important scoring drive. He led us to another field goal drive. The one thing that I would say with Jameis, too, is that he is extremely bright. Functioning and understanding what we are doing, he is someone that picks it up quickly.” – Saints head coach Sean Payton on his backup quarterback

“He’s a good leader. He’s got good command of the huddle. He’s an outgoing player. And I think he has that leadership mentality within him. So if he does get the call, I think he’s going to do a great job with it.” – Saints tackle Ryan Ramczyk on Saints backup QB Jameis Winston


Inside the NFC South

                                                W   L   T   Win %   PF       PA     DIV

New Orleans Saints               7    2    0    0.778       271      213     3-0

Tampa Bay Buccaneers         7    3    0    0.700      296     226    2-2

Atlanta Falcons                      3    6    0    0.333      243     251     1-1

Carolina Panthers                  3    7    0    0.300      233     272    1-4


Carolina Panthers (3-7) vs. Detroit Lions (4-5)

The frustrated Panthers have lost five straight and could be without superstar running back Christian McCaffrey (shoulder). Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (right knee sprain) looks OK to return. The Lions beat Washington 30-27 last week, and look to be slight road favorites this week.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3) vs. Los Angeles Rams (6-3) – Monday Night

Tom Brady and the Buccaneers whipped the Panthers 46-23 last week, but haven’t fared too well against teams with a strong pass rush. L.A. has 31 sacks on the year, third-most in the league, and will look to pressure Brady. If the Rams offense can score, they could pull out a victory.


NFC Playoff Picture

Below are the NFC standings through Week 10. The NFL expanded its playoff format from 12 to 14 teams for the 2020 season. Each conference will have seven playoff teams–four division champions and three wild card teams. Only the top seed from each conference will have a first-round playoff bye.


Seed  Team             Division       W L   T

1          Packers          North             7    2    0

2         Saints           South            7    2   0

3          Seahawks       West               7    3    0

4          Eagles             East                3    5    1

5          Buccaneers    South              7    3    0

6          Rams              West               6    3    0

7          Cardinals       West               6    4    0

8          Bears              North             5    5    0

9          Vikings           North             4    5    0

10        Lions              North             4    5    0

11         49ers               West                4    6    0

12        Falcons          South              3    6    0

13        Giants            East                3    7    0

14        Panthers         South              3    7    0

15        Washington   East                2    7    0

16        Cowboys        East                2    7    0


Record Watch

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw one touchdown pass while Tom Brady picked up three. Brees still holds the record as the NFL’s all-time leader in career passing touchdowns, but this injury will allow Brady unopposed time to rack up scores.


Career Touchdown Leader

Rank    Player   TDs

1             Brees       565

2             Brady      564


Career Yardage Leader

Rank    Player   Yards

1             Brees       79,612

2             Brady      77,310


The Extra Point: True Grit

Having already come back from a near career-ending injury to his throwing shoulder 16 years ago and ligament damage in his throwing hand last season, there’s no doubt that Drew Brees is an intense competitor who wants to be on the field. But if there were any remaining questions about his toughness and determination, they should be laid to rest after Sunday’s game. In the days after the 41-year-old Brees removed himself just before the start of the second half of the 49ers game, we’re learning a bit more about the physical toll he’s endured this season, how much winning means to him, and who he is as a man and a leader.

With the Saints down 10-3, the Saints recovered a muffed punt at San Francisco’s 21-yard line. After no gain on first down Brees was sacked for an 8-yard loss, but the referee deemed 49ers defensive lineman Kentavius Street drove Brees into the turf and flagged him for roughing the passer. Three plays later running back Alvin Kamara took a Brees handoff across the goal line to square the game at 10. Then he capped off the final drive of the first half with a touchdown pass to Kamara to go ahead 17-10.

When the second half started, Brees had a conversation with head coach Sean Payton and told him he couldn’t play. While no official reason was given during the game, the look in Brees’ eyes as he watched from the sideline reveled something serious was at hand.

On Monday, it was reported the quarterback had a collapsed lung and five broken ribs. But they weren’t from a singular hit. Brees powered through the first half of the 49ers game with three fractured ribs on his right side sustained the week before against Tampa Bay. In the second quarter, Street’s hit broke two ribs on his left side that punctured one of the QB’s lungs.

With three broken ribs on one side, not to mention the lingering undisclosed shoulder aggravation he’s had, it’s impressive that Brees was able to suit up for the 49ers game. It’s amazing to think he pushed through the pain of a punctured lung and broken ribs on both sides of his body to finish the half and give his team the lead.

Brees again proved he is a warrior by leading that 14-point swing in the game. His teammates love him for the leadership and tenacity he continuously demonstrates.

It may be as many as six weeks before Brees returns to action. If that’s right, he’d return for the last regular season game of the year. That’s a daunting thought in the middle of a playoff race. But the Saints went 5-0 in games Brees missed last year. They know they can win when he’s sidelined. That’s a huge mental boost.

For now, the Saints will have to go forward with Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill as their quarterback options. The admirable Brees will provide leadership and guidance from the sideline. He’ll also be a physical reminder to his teammates that they should give their all to the team so that they can keep winning and achieve their collective goals.