The New Orleans Saints defeated the Carolina Panthers 33-7 in what could have been starting quarterback Drew Brees’s final regular season game. Panthers starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was benched during the second half in favor of P.J. Walker, a testament to his play all evening.
It is hard to try and glean any real takeaways from this matchup as Carolina just did not show up to play considering it was Week 17 and there was little to fight for. New Orleans was able to take advantage of that in hopes of securing the number one seed, but the Chicago Bears were unable to get their job done against the Green Bay Packers. It was obvious heading into the fourth quarter that the Saints had the number two seed locked up and rested their starters for the remainder of the game.
That being said, here are some items we can takeaway from Sunday’s game heading into the playoffs:
Drew Brees almost looked normal again
Saints fan still collectively hold their breath every time Brees is brought to the ground. It is natural after he suffered 11 broken ribs and a collapsed lung, yet it was never something that was heavily worried about prior to the injury. Add that to the 41-year-old’s “up and down” play the last few games and it was good to see Brees have a solid game.
Beyond his 201 passing yards, 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions stat line, he looked good throwing the ball downfield, was precise and had a couple of vintage Brees dime throws. The quarterback also just looked more comfortable throwing the ball and hanging in the pocket than he has in past weeks. Again, it would be understandable if he was a little gun shy at first after returning from a horrific injury.
Once again, he was without top wide receiver Michael Thomas, and perhaps even more concerning, he was without his top safety valve in Alvin Kamara. Yet, he elevated receivers around him, and Ty Montgomery rushed for over 100 yards to help ease some of the pressure from the passing game.
If Brees can play like this at a minimum every single week going forward, they have a good shot to win playoff games. If he can find another level down the stretch, even without his top targets this could become a lethal and feared offense.
The Saints defense was feast or famine
Clearly the defense got the job done on Sunday as they held the Carolina offense to just seven points while also securing five interceptions and three sacks. However, throughout the entire game it seemed like it was groundhog day for the Saints defense and the Panthers offense. It would happen like this: the Panthers drive all the way down to the redzone, then throw an interception, sometimes in the endzone. It was like clockwork.
Luckily, the New Orleans offense was able to convert some of those turnovers into points, but had the Panthers closed out some of those drives then the scoreline would have looked quite different. Additionally, Bridgewater may have continued to play instead of being benched, which could have altered the course of the game.
At the end of the day, the unit got the job done. However, they will need to step up and not allow big chunk plays through the air in order to be successful against better teams, especially in the playoffs. They are missing two of their top safeties in Marcus Williams (ankle) and C.J. Gardner-Johnson (reserve/COVID-19 list), which provide a huge spark and leadership to the secondary. There should not be much to worry about with this unit heading into the playoffs, but they have some work to do in certain aspects.
Wil Lutz is no longer automatic
There have been rumors about a potential injury to the kicker, but nothing definitive has come from the team. Lutz is a Pro Bowl kicker and since his arrival in New Orleans in 2016 he has created a reputation of being a lock down, nearly automatic kicker. In part, that is true. Before this season he had a 100% success rate in the 20-29 yard range, he has missed one this season. Additionally, his kicking woes were on full display between Weeks 13 and 14 when he missed three field goals in three tries.
Week 17 against the Panthers was also concerning. After getting back on track on Christmas Day, Lutz then missed a PAT against Carolina in the regular season finale. Kickers miss, but something has seemed off with Lutz starting near the tail end of the season. Games in the playoffs may come down to one or two high leverage kicks. Lutz will have to find his form he has become known for in order to help close out games, if needed.
Lutz has the talent, now he needs to bring it back to the table.
What are your biggest takeaways? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, follow us on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, Instagram at @SaintsCSC, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. And as always you can follow me on Twitter at @KadeKistner.