The New Orleans Saints reclaimed sole possession of first place in the NFC South with a 31-21 defeat of the Carolina Panthers yesterday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints rebounded after poor defensive performances each of the last two weeks. New Orleans held their division rivals to just 279 yards and 16 first downs for the game, and only 204 yards after Carolina's opening scoring drive. They did it without one of their best players, defensive rookie of the year candidate cornerback Marshon Lattimore, still sidelined with an ankle injury. Starting free safety Marcus Williams was also out with injury, while cornerback Ken Crawley continues to be slowed by injury issues as well. The Saints offense held up as well, putting up 400 yards of total offense against a very good Panthers defense. Drew Brees and Michael Thomas each again had efficient performances, with 269 yards passing and 70 yards receiving, respectfully, while hooking up for a touchdown reception. Mark Ingram put up 85 yards rushing that included a 72 yard burst, a scoring run, and multiple first down conversions on extra efforts after receptions.
Let's hand out a few game balls for this big New Orleans victory before we get ready for "Falcon Week".
GAME BALL #1 — Alvin Kamara
Kamara seems to be etching his name deeper into the 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year trophy with each passing week. He totaled 126 yards from scrimmage against Carolina on just 14 touches, averaging an incredible NINE yards per touch. AK41 got the day started by accounting for 38 yards on the Saints opening 70 yard touchdown march, including the 2-yd. scoring run to culminate the drive. The scoring play was a 4th and goal from the Panthers 2, and Kamara took a pitch to the right side, where he was met at the goal line by Carolina linebacker Shaq Thompson, who delivered a vicious hit. Kamara absorbed the shot, and bulldozed into the end zone for his first of two rushing touchdowns on the day. Kamara opened the scoring in the second half as well, exploding through a hole on the right side and breaking multiple arm tackle attempts for a 20 yard touchdown.
New Orleans continues to move Kamara all over the offensive formation, and he has been unstoppable at times. Everyone in the building knew who was going to get the ball on a 3rd and 9 late in the 4th quarter as the Saints were trying to put away the game with a 10-pt. lead and nearing the 2 minute warning. Kamara took the screen pass on the right side, and weaved through heavy traffic for a 22 yard game clinching 1st down.
Be glad this guy is on your side.
GAME BALL #2 — Willie Snead
Welcome to the 2017 season, Mr. Snead! After two seasons of averaging 70 receptions and nearly 1,000 receiving yards, Snead had disappeared from the Saints offense this season. A league suspension, hamstring injury, and ineffectiveness has limited him to just 3 total receptions this year. On the Saints opening drive of the 3rd quarter near midfield yesterday, Snead found the perfect spot in the Panthers zone on a corner route that picked up 26 yards on a 3rd and 5, leading to a New Orleans touchdown. Snead's statistics for the day were modest, 2 catches for 31 yards, but was also a factor in drawing coverage on other routes throughout the game. For a Saints team that has struggled at times in 3rd down passing, Snead's specialty, this sign of increased contribution was encouraging, and will almost certainly be needed down the final stretch of the season.
GAME BALL #3 — Ken Crawley
Crawley returned to the lineup after missing the previous game and being questionable all week. He responded by holding Carolina's top wideout, Devin Funchess, without a catch in the first half and earning an overall grade of 87.8 from Pro Football Focus (PFF), 5th best among all cornerbacks on Sunday. He helped hold Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to just 183 passing yards, and made two plays on a 4th quarter drive that helped save the game for New Orleans. Panthers wideout Damiere Byrd was open for an easy touchdown reception, but Crawley showed excellent recovery speed to knock the ball away. Later that same drive, the Panthers had a 4th down deep in New Orleans territory, and an opportunity to close within one score. Crawley made an outstanding tackle on Funchess after a reception, holding the bigger Carolina receiver 1 yard short of a 1st down, and giving the ball back to New Orleans.
GAME BALL #4 — Taysom Hill
Jim "Crash" Jenson, a name some, um, "slightly" older football fans will remember. He was drafted in the 11th round by the Miami Dolphins, a team he played with until 1992. Playing most of his career on a team with some guy named Marino at quarterback, Jenson threw only 7 passes as an NFL player, but carved out a career as a short yardage receiver and as a special teams standout.
Fast forward to 2017. Taysom Hill impressed many this preseason as a backup rookie quarterback out of Brigham Young for the Green Bay Packers. After being a surprise cut late in the preseason, he was signed by the New Orleans Saints as a developmental project. Yesterday, he saw his first regular season action, in an unlikely way. The Saints coaches wanted to use Hill's size and athletic ability on a struggling special teams coverage unit. The gamble paid off, as Hill recorded two special teams tackles, and also played well in lane assignments on kick coverage. Hill also forced a botched Panthers punt in the second quarter, when his rush from the outside forced Carolina punter Michael Palardy into a bobbled snap, giving the Saints possession at the Panthers 31-yd. line and leading to a New Orleans touchdown.
Time will tell if Hill has the capability to be an NFL quarterback, but his professional debut was one to remember.
Welcome to the NFL, Taysom Hill!
Now, it's on to Falcons Hate Week.
Who was your top performer in the Saints rematch victory over Carolina?
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