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Beignets and Café au lait: Saints Haven’t Peaked Yet.

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Saints might have peaked too soon in 2018. They’re far from it right now and that’s a good thing.

Carolina Panthers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Good morning Y’all

As always, for our novice readers or non-New Orleanians, welcome!

Let’s start with some definitions:

Beignets (English: /bɛnˈjeɪ/; French: [bɛɲɛ], ben-YAY literally bump) are distinctly New Orleans, a delicacy intimately connected to the city’s rich French heritage. Best enjoyed heavily powdered with sugar.

Café au lait (/ˌkæfeɪ oʊ ˈleɪ, kæˌfeɪ, kə-/; French: [kafe olɛ]; French for “coffee with milk”) is a delicious New Orleans way to start your day.

This is your “After-Saints-Game” breakfast, where we talk about the state of the Black and Gold, we debate the goings-on in the NFC South, and paint the playoff picture in the NFC up to this point of the season. So, sit back, take a bite and a sip while your brain slowly wakes up, and let’s catch up on some football.

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What Just Happened?

Well, it is likely that you’ve made your way back from the Emergency Room, or just emerged from a Crown Royal-induced stupor. Maybe you’ve finished emptying your heart medicine cabinet, because the Saints’ 34-31 win over the Carolina Panthers yesterday afternoon was exactly that: heart-attack inducing.

New Orleans improved its season record to 9-2, but it took every second of the game’s 60 minutes against an absolutely charged Carolina Panthers squad yesterday. The Saints raced to a 14-0 lead, then saw it trimmed to 14-6. After extending their advantage to 17-6, the Panthers once again would draw closer, making it 17-15 by halftime. After the Saints had once again stretched their lead to 13 points at 31-18 in the third quarter, it felt as though the Black and Gold were finally ready to separate themselves and beat the kitties somewhat comfortably. Nope! The Panthers would score the next 13 points to tie the game at 31.

After a crushing fail on 4th-and-inches from their own 45-yard line, the Saints would give the ball back to the Panthers in plus-territory. Carolina, buoyed by their second half success would drive to New Orleans’ three-yard line, and have six tries at the goal line following a rare pass interference challenge win. The Saints would hold, aided by an incredibly crucial sack by Marcus Davenport when the Panthers were facing their second third-and-goal of the drive.

It would come down to kicker Joey Slye making a 28-yard field goal to give Carolina its very first lead of the day: but it wasn’t meant to be. Davenport, one play after his drive-altering sack, jumped over the Panthers’ field goal formation and affected Slye’s field goal kick, which sailed wide right. The Saints had the ball, tied at 31 with 1:56 left on the clock at their own 20-yard line and Drew Brees at the helm.

It started ominously: Brees was sacked for a loss of six yards on the very first play. The Saints then proceeded to call two numbers: 13 and 41. On the next six positive plays, Brees found either Michael Thomas (13) or Alvin Kamara (41) to move the ball all the way down to the Panthers’ 15-yard line. A spike of the ball with four seconds left, a Wil Lutz’s 33-yard field goal kick and the Saints were escaping their own home turf with a 34-31 victory.

The Saints haven’t peaked yet, and in a way, that is good because the team can keep looking back at mistakes and missed opportunities and make improvements. Last season, it seems that the Saints were all-world early, then kept getting worse as the season wore on. This year, we haven’t seen the Saints’ best yet and it’s already November. yet, they are 9-2 and on the brink of winning another NFC South crown. Like the wise man once said: a win is a win. The wise man was right.

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Five Numbers...That Don’t Lie

· 531: The number of career touchdown passes for Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees. Yesterday against the Panthers, Brees went 30-for-39 for 311 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. The three touchdowns gave him 531 passing touchdowns, which ranks third in NFL history behind the retired Peyton Manning (539) and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (532). Had he not missed five games with a thumb injury, it is likely that Brees would’ve already passed Manning on this prestigious list. However, with five games left in the regular season, it is quite likely that Brees will do so before the start of the playoffs.

· 123: The number of penalty yards given up by the Saints yesterday against the Carolina Panthers. In other words, a football field and 23 yards were given to the Panthers for free during a game the Saints won by three points. Imagine one instant if the Saints had had just half of those, the game is probably a double-digit win for New Orleans. In eleven games this season, the Saints have had 10-plus penalties four times and average 7.8 penalties a game. By giving their opponents so many chances to win, it’s actually a testament to how talented a team the Saints are that they are 9-2 right now with a four-game lead in their division. As Drew Brees said after the game, “we are still waiting to see the team play their best football.”

· 99: The receptions yards by tight end Jared Cook yesterday against the Panthers. Cook struggled to meet expectations in his first games in New Orleans. Through his first four games in Black and Gold, Cook was targeted 18 times, catching eight of those passes (44%) for 90 yards (22.5 yards-per-game) and zero touchdowns. In the last five games in which he has been active (Cook missed two games with injuries) the Saints’ tight end was targeted 29 times, caught 24 of those passes (83%) for 284 yards (56.8 yards-per-game) and four touchdowns. A dramatic turnaround that has both the Saints’ coaching staff, Drew Brees and Saints fans very excited about things to come for Cook in a Saints’ offense that excels at maximizing the tight end position.

· 2.9. The yards-per-carry number for Carolina Panthers’ running back Christian McCaffrey yesterday against the Saints. Watching the game, one might have thought that McCaffrey tore the Saints apart. Well he did, as the Panthers’ running back caught all nine passes thrown his way for 69 yards and a touchdown and added a rushing touchdown to his stat sheet yesterday. However, McCaffrey rushed 22 times for a measly 69 yards and the Panthers real success in the running game came through end around runs with wide receiver/speedster Curtis Samuel. The Saints’ defensive line remains extremely stout against the run on the year, which continues to bode well for the remainder of the season and especially the postseason.

· 1: Yup, that is the magic number. With a win against the Falcons on Thanksgiving night, your New Orleans Saints would become the 2019 NFC South champions. In November! A win would not only mean a playoff berth, it would also mark the first time ever that the Saints have won the division three consecutive years. The feat has been accomplished only once in the division’s history, when the Carolina Panthers won the NFC South in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Winter (football) is coming!

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Beignets and Café au Lait Awards

· Fresh Beignets with Hot Coffee: Marcus Davenport. The Saints’ second-year defensive end has had a mixed bag of a season to this point. The Saints placed a lot of hope in Davenport when they moved up in the 2018 NFL draft to select him with the 14th overall pick. However, Davenport had a rookie season that was thwarted by an ankle injury, just as he seemed to find his groove. He finished last season with 4.5 sacks. This year, despite producing a lot of quarterback pressures, Davenport always seems to arrive a second or two too late before the opposing quarterback releases the ball. Not yesterday. When it counted, Davenport recorded his fourth sack of the season (only a half sack shy of his 2018 total) on a third-and-goal play that could’ve given the Panthers a touchdown lead and dramatically changed the tenor of the game. Davenport’s sack of Kyle Allen caused a six yards loss, and forced Carolina to attempt a 28-yard field goal to take a three-point lead with 1:56 left in the game. The rest is history, as Joey Slye missed wide right and the Saints drove the other way to win the game. Davenport has a lot of growth to do, but the signs are there that he is a kid (23 years old) with a lot of untapped potential.

· Stale Beignets with Lukewarm Coffee: Cam Jordan. Of all the Saints’ infuriating penalties yesterday, none was more frustrating than Cam Jordan’s unconscionable roughing-the-passer penalty on Kyle Allen. With the Saints lead 17-9 and 6:30 left in the second quarter, the Panthers drove the ball to their 47-yard line when on 2nd-and-8, Mario Edwards sacked Kyle Allen for an eight-yard loss. On 3rd-and-16 from the Panthers’ 39-yard line, Demario Davis go in on the action, sacking Allen for a 10-yard loss. Boom, the Saints were going to get the ball back with3:51 on the clock and a chance to bury the further bury the kitties by going up 24-9.

But with Allen clearly in Davis’ grasp and the whistles having blown, Jordan tried to punch the ball out, whiffed and hit Allen on the shoulder. The Panthers’ quarterback smartly flopped, but the play was completely unnecessary on Jordan’s part. The referees (which were bad) justifiably called an unnecessary roughness penalty, giving Carolina a new set of downs. The Panthers would eventually bleed the remainder of the clock, score a touchdown and go into halftime with all the momentum, trailing only by two points.

Jordan is a leader in the Saints’ locker room and took accountability after the game, saying that the penalty was “on him.” I wouldn’t have expected less from Jordan, however his foul was emblematic of a sloppy day for the Saints, something they will have to correct in order to attain the goals they have set for themselves this season.

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What’s Next?

· The Saints will have a short turnaround, as they play the recently-returned-to-earth Atlanta Falcons (3-8) on Thanksgiving night at 7:20 CT. The mercurial Dirty Birds got manhandled 35-22 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) in Atlanta. The Falcons had won two games in a row, both on the road, before their unexpected home setback. Atlanta will undoubtedly be up for this game, as nothing would give them more pleasure than to derail the Saints’ playoffs positioning plans, as well as avoid having New Orleans win the division crown on their home field. Buckle up!

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Super Bowl Odds

Following their win against the Panthers yesterday, according to fivethirthyeight.com, the Saints remain third in odds of winning the Super Bowl at 13%, behind only the Pats (25%) and Ravens (18%). Rounding out the top five are the San Francisco 49ers (13%) and the Minnesota Vikings (8%). New Orleans’ odds of winning the NFC South are now > 99%, followed by the Panthers (1%). Bucs and Falcons still have a < 1% chance to win the South or to make the playoffs. Hey, at least it’s not zero.

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Hey, how come you’re still here? Get some work done! Unless you’re still checking to make sure that the Saints actually won yesterday (they did!) in which case, carry right on.

Poll

Will the Saints win the NFC South in Atlanta on Thanksgiving?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    Yes, it’s Falcons Hate Week No. 2 and we’re coming!
    (131 votes)
  • 36%
    Cautiously optimistic, but the team worries me. Could go either way
    (93 votes)
  • 2%
    No, those damn Falcons will find a way to win a squeaker
    (6 votes)
  • 10%
    Um, yeah and I expect a 40-burger from the Saints, bro
    (27 votes)
257 votes total Vote Now