Da Boot Sports
Article courtesy of Crescent City Sports
By: Ken Trahan
You knew it would not be pretty. Style points have long since disappeared from the scene for 2021 New Orleans Saints, particularly on offense.
For the 2021 Saints to win, they must play solid defense, win the turnover battle and win the kicking game.
New Orleans did all three Sunday and emerged victorious against Carolina to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Here are my Quick Takes from the 18-10 victory for the Saints over the Panthers:
**Despite coming off the COVID-19/Reserve list Saturday, Erik McCoy and Marcus Williams were declared out for the game.
**Malcolm Roach was activated to the practice squad from the Reserve/Covid-19 list while Nick Vannett was placed on the list.
**Kawan Baker, Bryce Thompson, Will Clapp and lineman Forrest Lamp were elevated from the practice squad for the game.
**Inactives for the Saints were Terron Armstead, Ian Book, Mark Ingram, Erik McCoy, Bradley Roby, Tre’Quan Smith and Marcus Williams
**In all, the Saints were without three players due to Covid issues while the Panthers were without five players due to the virus protocols.
**Carolina took the opening kickoff and drove 12 plays, 61 yards, taking 6:55 off the clock with Lirim Hajrullahu kicking a 32-yard field goal to give the Panthers a 3-0 lead with 8:05 to play in the opening quarter.
**Sam Darnold got off to a very good start, throwing quick passes with success, going 5-of-5 of 51 yards on the scoring drive.
**Will Clapp started at center while Jordan Mills returned at right tackle with James Hurst at left tackle. Calvin Throckmorton and Cesar Ruiz were the guards.
**The Saints responded with an eight play, 52-yard drive, taking 3:56 off the clock with Brett Maher tying the game at 3-3 with a 41-yard field goal with 4:05 to play in the opening quarter.
**On the drive, Taysom Hill was 3-of-4 for 50 yards, all to Alvin Kamara. Marquez Callaway dropped a perfect pass which hit him right in the chest which helped stall the drive.
**With Marcus Williams out, Jeff Heath stepped in and had to play many snaps at safety.
**P.J. Williams was hurt early in the second quarter but was able to walk off the field and returned.
**Carolina recaptured a 10-3 lead, driving 81 yards in 10 plays, taking 5:51 off the clock with Chuba Hubbard racing 21 yards for a touchdown with 13:21 to play in the half. Heath missed a tackle on him at about the 5-yard line.
**Darnold completed his first nine passes for 88 yards.
**The defense finally awakened as P.J. Williams came up big on a blitz, sacking Darnold, forcing a fumble and Marcus Davenport recovered at the Carolina 13-yard line.
**Unfortunately, the Saints did nothing with the turnover, gaining four yards on three plays and Maher kicked a 27-yard field goal to make it 10-6 with 8:41 to play in the half.
**Williams then went down hurt again.
**Cam Jordan had two sacks in the first half to him 10 on the season, the sixth time he has recorded 10 or more sacks in his brilliant career. Remember when everyone was questioning whether Hill was done earlier this season?
**Kamara went over 200 rushes on the season in the first half, his career high.
**Pinned back at his own 4-yard line, Hill engineered a very nice drive to produce points just prior to halftime as the Saints went 73 yards in 10 plays with Maher kicking a 41-yard field goal on the final play of the half to make it 10-9 at the half.
**Hill played well in the first half, completing 11-of-17 passes for 166 yards with two drops and he spiked a pair of throws to kill the clock.
**That was the whole offense as the Saints lost four yards rushing on 10 attempts in the half.
**That left the Saints without a touchdown in 10 consecutive quarters entering the second half.
**New Orleans had a nice opening drive to start the second half as Hill hit Callaway twice for 18 yards total, Hill ran for nine yards and Hill hit Harris for 14 yards.
**Then, under heavy pressure, Hill was flagged for intentional grounding and that forced a punt after a challenge by Carolina coach Matt Rhule, which changed the line-of-scrimmage from the Carolina 36 to the Carolina 39-yard line and Sean Payton changed his mind from a field goal attempt to a punt.
**New Orleans finally took advantage of a short field and Maher kicked a 33-yard field goal to give the Saints a 12-10 lead with 2:07 to play in the third quarter. The field goal was set up by runs of six and 14 yards by Hill.
**Carolina answered with a nice drive, reaching the New Orleans 29-yard line but Hajrullahu missed a 47-yard field goal attempt wide right with 12:04 to play in the game.
**Hill then executed an excellent drive and the Saints finally scored a touchdown for the first time in 12 quarters as he connected with Kamara on a 12-yard touchdown pass to make it 18-10 with 7:49 to play in the game.
**It was the first touchdown since a fourth quarter score in a win over the Jets on Dec. 12.
**Unfortunately, Maher missed the extra point, keeping it a one-possession game.
**On the touchdown drive, Kamara had a 30-yard run.
**The Saints got their fifth sack of the game to stall the next drive for Carolina as Jordan split it with Kwon Alexander.
**CJ Gardner-Johnson came up with the sixth sack and then Jordan came up with the seventh sack of the game on Carolina’s final possession.
**Then, Gardner-Johnson ended it by picking off a poor throw by Darnold to seal the victory. It was the third interception of the season for Gardner-Johnson.
Jordan was brilliant with 3.5 sacks. Not too long ago, many were questioning if he was approaching the end of his career.
Gardner-Johnson continued his outstanding season.
Along with Marshon Lattimore and Demario Davis, the foursome has been simply outstanding. Marcus Williams has been good as well this season while Alexander has been solid. The defense, overall, has been good.
The offense is not good but it was just good enough to beat a bad Carolina team.
Let us make sure we put this in perspective.
The Saints are back to .500 with one game to play, an indication of what kind of team they are.
They beat a bad team which has now lost six straight games.
They kept their playoff hopes alive and need a win at Atlanta and a loss by San Francisco to the Rams to sneak into the postseason next week.
Hill did not see the field very well on a couple of plays where receivers were open and he did not throw to them but overall, he gets a passing grade.
Hill completed 17-of-28 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown with four dropped passes. Two other incomplete passes were on balls that he spiked to stop the clock late in the first half. Hill also rushed 12 times for 45 yards.
Most importantly, Hill did not commit a turnover.
Despite having nowhere to run, outside of one play, Kamara still accounted for 100 yards from scrimmage, including 68 yards receiving on five receptions.
Callaway had six catches for 97 yards despite three drops.
Jordan was a beast with eight tackles, including three for loss and 3 ½ sacks. Alexander had eight tackles with a half sack.
The Saints were missing both a week ago against Miami.
The kicking game was good, outside of the missed extra point by Maher which would have put the game away.
These Saints have little room for error but its defense was simply outstanding after the first two possession of the game for the Panthers.
On the first two drives, Carolina gained 142 yards and scored 10 points.
On its final nine possessions, the Panthers totaled 36 yards and scored no points.
Based on the rivalry, you know the Falcons will be hell-bent to ruin the season for the Saints next Sunday.
Still, the fact that the Saints have a shot at making the expanded playoffs going into the final week of the season, given a ton of injuries, Covid issues and its first season without Drew Brees can only be construed as a positive development.
It would become a positive season if, in fact, the Saints win next week to both have a winning season and earn a playoff berth.