Look no further than the 90-yard drive on the Saints final possession of the game when wondering how they fared.
Once again, with the game hanging in the balance, the offense performed best in the clutch. I believe we'll all look back at that monumental drive with appreciation as it may be crucial to this season down the road. The offense had their fair share of red zone struggles (again) and second half sputtering, but when it was most important they went 90 yards in the 4th quarter and put the ball in the end zone. The result was a 30-27 win. What more can you ask for?
Below are the grades.
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Saints vs Panthers boxscoreDrew Brees: B+ (3.60) You can take the description above of how the offense performed and basically apply it to Drew Brees. The offense goes as he goes. Brees was good early, spotty in the red zone, hit a lull in the second half, and came up huge at the end. Still, he missed a number of throws he usually makes. He had a streaking Lance Moore wide open at one point headed for the end zone for a sure 6 and he overthrew him. You don't see him miss that throw very often. He finished 32 of 45 for 359 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. The interception was tipped by Graham, but a high throw to begin with, so still on Brees. In the end that 90 yard drive was a work of art and Brees was the artist.
Darren Sproles: B+ (3.67) Funny that this was probably his "worst game" as a Saint so far. And he still did pretty good. He got a lot more action running the ball, with 11 carries for 51 yards. I feel like Sproles runs are always awesomely amazing or poor. He's not getting 3-4 yards consistently like Ingram. It's either a big run or he's hit in the backfield. I feel like we saw his limitations a bit more in this game. He really isn't that good at breaking a tackle. That said, he's quick, slippery and decisive in his running. He also had 5 receptions for 40 yards. I wasn't a huge fan of him making fair catches inside the 10. I also thought giving him the ball on two 3rd and 1's was pure insanity. He actually converted one, but what are you thinking coach Payton?
Pierre Thomas: B (3.07) When is this guy going to get more touches? 7 carries and 3 catches just isn't enough. He had 18 yards rushing and 24 yards receiving. I know the Saints have many capable backs and they don't want to overwork his ankle, but his performance has been such that he should start getting more reps. He did a good job catching the football and he ran hard. His grade got a big boost for scoring the game winning touchdown with 50 seconds left.
Mark Ingram: B- (2.53) Once again, Ingram did a terrific job running the ball hard in short yardage situations. I remember Mike Bell going good in this role in 2009, and frankly, Ingram is way better. He's just great at pumping his legs forward and always getting that extra yard. He had 9 carries for 32 hard yards and a big touchdown. He also contributed 2 receptions for 17 yards in the passing game. His unsportsmanlike penalty after the touchdown was beyond stupid, though. Act like you've been there before Mark.
Jed Collins: B+ (2.87) This guy is really coming into his own. His lead blocking on runs was very solid. My big bone to pick with Sean Payton is how little he ran the ball against the 31 ranked run defense in the league. Seriously, 45 passes and 28 runs? Despite being up 2 scores at times in the game? That is just not smart. I thought the play calling was poor in this game. Collins was stonewalled at the of scrimmage on his one carry near the goal line. He came back and scored a touchdown on a flare pass, though.
Korey Hall: B (3.00) The Saints used quite a bit of 2 fullback blocking sets, as well as putting Hall out at tight end with David Thomas missing. I thought his blocking was good and he notched a tackle on special teams as well. He'd been doing a terrific job with that unit.
Marques Colston: B+ (2.22) Colston had a solid performance and he's clearly on the mend from his collarbone problem. He had 5 receptions for 69 yards and he took some big shots and seemed to bounce back from them. He had great hands and made his classic Colston type plays. He was a big reliable target and showed good hands.
Lance Moore: B- (2.84) He drew a big pass interference penalty, but beyond that he didn't contribute that much to the passing game. He had 3 catches for 30 yards and was kept in check. The Panthers did a good job of covering him
Robert Meachem: B- (2.73) He had good hands and made a few good plays. He seemed a little less soft and shy about contact that usual which was nice. He had 4 receptions for 38 yards. The lone pass he didn't catch was a high throw with good coverage that only an exceptional receiver comes up with.
Devery Henderson: C- (2.87) He made a nifty little play for a first down running after the catch. That was it, one catch for 11 yards. He's starting to slow down after his monstrous start. He didn't look 100% healthy. Made no major mistakes though.
Jimmy Graham: A- (3.33) If you look at the highlights, all the amazing catches he made (including that one handed juggler - just sick!) you would think he deserves an A+. He had 8 catches for 129 yards and he played amazing. No doubt about it. He had one catch early on that 90 yard game winning drive, where it was a short 3rd down conversion but he was absolutely drilled on the play. Hanging onto the football there was huge. He did have some mistakes though. While Brees' pass was high, he helped the Panthers on that INT by tipping it to the defender. His blocking wasn't great, and he missed his assignment on a blitz pickup of Captain Munnerlyn that led to a sack. He also ran a horrendous route on a fade play to the end zone. What's amazing is this guy makes up for his lack of experience and raw talent with just how freakishly good of an athlete he is. It's amazing how prolific of a receiver he is and he's only going to get better. He's going to the Pro Bowl this year, book it.
John Gilmore: C+ (2.00) He came in as a blocking tight end and did a reasonable job. He was targeted once and the ball fell harmlessly incomplete. He's fine as a body off the edge that can block, but he's no threat whatsoever in the passing game.
Jermon Bushrod: C (2.53) I don't say this often but his run blocking was infinitely better than his pass blocking. He was fortunate that Brees feels pressure and gets rid of the ball so quickly, because had he been blocking for another quarterback he could have yielded a number of sacks. The amount of pressure coming off his edge was alarming. On running plays, though, he get terrific push, especially in short yardage plains and he was very physical at the point of attack. An up and down game for Bushrod.
Carl Nicks: B+ (2.80) His play is starting to improve but he hasn't hit his peak performance just yet. He was very physical on running plays, and whenever the Saints needed a yard they ran behind him. His pass blocking was solid as well, though I wish he had given more help to Bushrod.
Brian de la Puente: C- (2.00) Did anyone else notice the snaps not coming out clean at all? He needs to get that corrected ASAP because 4 to 5 snaps were bottled in the snap transition by Brees and I know that's not Brees' fault because I never saw that once with Jonathan Goodwin. If de la Puente can't get the ball snapped properly then the Saints need to try Matt Tennant. The Saints are lucky none of those resulted in fumbles. Otherwise, his blocking was largely fine, but he didn't get great push.
Jahri Evans: B (3.27) He had a false start penalty and another poor blitz pickup, but other than that his blocking was once again impeccable. While we can't ignore the mistakes he made, Evans' comfort in the offense and experience is really impressive. He's always at the right place at the right time and he holds his ground extremely well. He's been very good so far this year.
Charles Brown: C+ (2.67) The poor play he has at times is never really a function of ability, I've noticed. It's more lapses in concentration and focus. He just wasn't mindful on a handful of blocking assignments and he had a false start penalty once. I feel like experience will partially fix that, but I do wonder if he's one of those guys that has drifting focus. That's a little worrisome because I wonder if he's paying attention all the time, but it's also promising because clearly he's got the size, speed and strength to succeed as a right tackle. I've been impressed with him blocking, power and technique when he gets a hat on a player.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Jimmy Graham