For the sixth time this season and third consecutive game, the Saints offense broke the 40 point barrier. They also gained 617 yards, so needless to say the grades turned out pretty well from top to bottom. I'm sad watching this regular season come to an end but at least we get to watch this offense go to work again in the playoffs. Make the jump for the final grades of the 2011 regular season, and the final GPAs for the 16-game season.
Chase Daniel: B- (2.67) He had pretty good command of the huddle and played fine in spot duty/garbage time. Nice to see him get some live game action and reps. He finished 3 for 3 for 20 yards with his most impressive throw coming to Graham on a 3rd down conversion. He did get flagged for simulation on a 4th and 1 which was worth a try.
Chris Ivory: A (2.95) This was the Chris Ivory I remember from a season ago. He ran with purpose, speed and raw power. He wasn't the least bit afraid of contact, he bounces outside for nice gains on a few plays, and he finished his runs off extremely well. A 19 carry 127 yard performance for Ivory who becomes the first 100 yard rusher of the season for the Saints. He was solid in short yardage situations and his 35 yard touchdown run was very impressive. Word is Mark Ingram will have surgery and is out for the postseason, so Ivory is hitting his stride just in time and it looks like the Saints will ride him to the finish line.
Darren Sproles: A- (3.23) He got his all purpose yards record, though his touches started to feel a little forced at the end there when it was pretty clear the Saints set out to hook him up. He was routinely taking kick returns out that were 9 yards deep... which is just stupid. He finished with 40 yards on just 6 carries, 29 yards on 5 catches and a touchdown, 15 yards per return on punts and 27 yards per return on kicks. All in all a vintage day for Sproles who's had a fantastic season.
Pierre Thomas: B+ (3.13) Based on the limited amount of touches he had in this game and all season long, I can only imagine how fresh he'll be for this playoff run. Per usual, he was great, and he never went down to the first man. His ability to absorb contact and continually finish off the run for extra yardage is like none other. He had 30 yards on 5 carries and 3 receptions for 36 yards. The only real negative was a 3rd down screen pass he dropped right through his hands to force the Saints to settle for a field goal.
Jed Collins: A (2.79) He capped off a solid blocking day with a touchdown catch, finishing with 2 catches for 3 yards. His touchdown dance caught a lot of heat but I thought it was hilarious. His lead blocking was phenomenal and it was nice to see him rewarded for his dirty with with a score.
Marques Colston: A+ (3.31) This guy deserves to get paid and the Saints must do whatever it takes to retain him. I'm officially terribly afraid of losing this guy who has now clearly demonstrated he is an elite receiver in the league and a crucial piece to this offense. He finished with 7 catches for 142 yards and 2 touchdowns. The guy is a freak of nature and the targets he gives Brees are just unfair. His first touchdown was one of the better catches I've seen where Brees went so high I can't imagine more than 3-5 players in the entire league make that catch. He made the Panther defensive backs pay all game long.
Devery Henderson: B (2.35) He had just 2 catches for 48 yards but made the most of his opportunities showing good hands. He also took an end around for 9 yards to the 1 yard line and showed good physical willingness trying to get the ball into the end zone by taking contact head on.
Robert Meachem: C+ (2.48) He was once again terrified to take a hit. Poor Meachem had another touchdown called back, it seems like he's had a few of those this season. He finished with 2 catches for 30 yards.
Adrian Arrington: C+ (2.00) His lone catch went for 17 yards but he did a good job of securing the football and absorbing pretty hard contact before holding on to the football.
Jimmy Graham: A (3.27) He was double teamed a lot early, but as the game wore on and Colston was absolutely murdering the Panthers' defense, opportunities... opportunities... were knocking at his door. God, I hate that song and I can't get out of my head. Ugh. Anyway, Graham took full advantage after that and finished with 8 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. He also included a highlight reel circus catch one hander that will hopefully be shown on replay for years to come. Just sick.
Michael Higgins: C+ (2.33) He blocked a little and got to play some. Nothing special but he did haul in a 4 yard pass.
Jermon Bushrod: A+ (2.85) OK, first off, the entire offensive line was outstanding. I'm giving them all A's with a couple exceptions here... because they ran for 208 yards (5.9 per carry including 3 kneel downs by Daniel), passed for 409 yards, and Brees was never sacked NOR EVEN HIT!!! Bushrod gets the A+ not for his blocking, which was terrific in it's own right, but for running down a defensive back to make a tackle and save a touchdown. I'm not entirely sure how R.J. Stanford allowed Bushrod to catch him but he should never hear the end of it. And kudos to JB for not giving up on the play. He's faster than I thought.
Carl Nicks: A (2.90) Mauled defenders all day long and dominated in the trenches.
Brian de la Puente: A (2.60) A very clean game and another solid performance by the guy no one expected to be a starter.
Jahri Evans: B (3.23) I docked his grade because of the holding penalty he had that negated Meachem's ridiculous diving touchdown grab. That big mistake aside, he was terrific.
Zach Strief: A (3.06) Ends the year of a very high note. I've been shocked by his play at right tackle and he's been a huge upgrade over Jon Stinchcomb in his prime, even. I guess all Strief needed was an opportunity. This guy needs to be the Saints' right tackle of the future.
Pat McQuistan: B+ (2.33) Deserves a shout out. He played more than ever with John Gilmore out, so he had more "Number 76 is eligible" tight end plays than I could stomach. To his credit he continually came out and got great edge push.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Marques Colston