The Saints dropped the last regular season game of the year to the downtrodden Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 31-24, but still won the NFC South after the Atlanta Falcons knocked off the Carolina Panthers. With the loss, and the sometimes wonderful magic that is called playoff seeding, the Saints road to the Super Bowl possibly got easier as well but let’s not get ahead of ourselves New Orleans.
Down in Tampa Bay
It was a weird game. Yes, Jameis Winston is a talented quarterback but the Saints defense can’t say they ended the regular season on a high note, and this wasn’t a game in which the Saints were mailing it in. New Orleans came to win the division but just didn’t have a great performance.
Uncharacteristically, the Saints defense couldn’t get much pressure on Winston, recording only two inconsequential sacks on the day and creating no heat on Winston on the Buccaneers game-winning drive. The defense couldn’t get off the field on third downs, watching the Buccaneers repeatedly convert third downs into first downs and roll up 455 yards on offense. On a day where the defense recorded three interceptions it’s almost mind-boggling to think the Bucs even had a chance to win the game. Weirder still, the Saints entered the day giving up 19.7 points a game and watched the Buccaneers put up 18 points in the fourth quarter alone.
But they’re still the NFC South champions, dammit.
Brees and Company
It wasn’t all about the defense though. The offense never dropped the hammer on a losing team. The offense only put up two touchdowns and was dormant in the second and third quarter. If it wasn’t for Alvin Kamara’s 106-yard kickoff return there would be a lot of questions about the offense this week.
The Saints are a team that has a lot of weapons. Kamara is easily the most exciting player in the NFL. Michael Thomas, in only his second year, not only broke the Saints single-season reception record on Sunday but also broke the NFL record for most receptions in a player’s first two years. Thomas now has 104 catches on the season.
And, again, the Saints came to win. When Coach Payton has Brees quarterback sneaking at midfield and his field goal kicker, Wil Lutz, getting destroyed on a fake field goal attempt the proof is in the pudding. Unfortunately, the team just never got Mark Ingram or any semblance of their dominant run game going. It was a stacked offense that just refused to explode in a forgettable performance.
Let’s forget it because the Saints are NFC South champions. Who Dat!
With the loss, the Saints went from hosting the hated Atlanta Falcons (10-6) for the second time in three weeks to hosting the Carolina Panthers (11-5). The Saints have the unenviable task of beating the Panthers for the third time this season, a feat that’s hard to pull off in any sport, let alone the NFL.
Yet, I wouldn’t want to be in the Panthers’ shoes this week. The Saints, with title in hand, playing at home in front of Who Dat nation? Oh boy. The Superdome was an absolute buzz saw two weeks ago when the Falcons came to town. It will be all that and more as the Saints host their first playoff home game since 2011, a 45-28 victory over the Detroit Lions.
OK, let’s get ahead of ourselves. When the Saints get past the Carolina Panthers they could go on the road to play the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles (13-3). Yet, it is a wounded Eagles team after their starting quarterback, and MVP candidate, Carson Wentz blew out his ACL in Week 14. Ever since that injury, the Eagles have been a different team with backup Nick Foles, eking out victories over ho-hum competition before putting up a goose egg last week.
Now, since I’m getting way ahead of myself, if the Saints win that game they would most likely face the Minnesota Vikings (13-3), their Week One opponent all the way back in September when the city was throwing its hands up wondering if the Saints were heading for another losing season. Pretty storybook, eh?
So, here’s to the NFC South champions, the New Orleans Saints. It’s been a helluva run so far. The kind that makes the mind run wild with all kinds of possibilities.
The Saints host the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Jan. 7 at 3:40 p.m. at Dome Sweet Dome. Who Dat.
And like a fine wine with a steak dinner, every game should be accompanied by a beverage and song.
Beer Pairing: Bayou Teche Brewing’s “LA 31 Acadie” Farmhouse Ale
Playlist Recommendation: Ying Yang Twins – “Halftime”
Around the Way
Let’s go to Devlin! The Tulane Green Wave, under Coach Mike Dunleavy Sr., are starting to make things interesting in Uptown. Tulane (10-4) is a light year better than they were last year having already posted four more wins over last season’s total.
The Green Wave have gotten to the point where they’re winning the games they’re supposed to and, like last week at Temple, getting an upset or two along the way. Tulane will try to upset the SMU Mustangs (12-3), a team picked to finish fourth in the American Athletic, this Thursday, Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. at Devlin Fieldhouse. Let’s fill it up, Uptown!