An 18-10 win over the Carolina Panthers yesterday helped the New Orleans Saints maintain their playoff aspirations. The Saints need to beat the Atlanta Falcons, and need a loss for the San Francisco 49ers to the Rams, to advance to the playoffs for a fifth straight season.
As has always been the case this year, nothing has been easy for the Saints. Carolina quarterback Sam Darnold opened the game with a 9-for-9 assist and the Panthers were able to execute the ball well early in the game. The Saints settled in and took physical control as the game progressed.
Offensively, the Saints weren’t able to throw the ball and had to depend on their low-ranking passing game to move the ball.
The Saints had 73 rushing yards in the game, but had less than four rushing yards at halftime. A 30-meter run from RB Alvin Kamara and scrambles from Taysom Hill accounted for most of their ground distance.
Hill was sometimes off target during the day, but had a few key passes throwing for 222 yards. His receivers bailed him out with superb catches.
Wideout Marquez Callaway has had a hectic afternoon. Callaway dropped three passes, but had 6 catches for 97 yards and had some great catches. Kamara was involved as an early receiver and landed 5 receptions for 68 yards during the day.
A 12-yard touchdown pass from Hill to Kamara early in the fourth quarter ended an 11 straight quarterback streak. The score gave New Orleans their first lead of the day, and the Saints would turn the game to their spectacular defense for the win.
New Orleans allowed the Panthers just 178 total yards, including just 30 in the third quarter. They fired Darnold 7 times and registered 8 QB hits. Defensive tackles Christian Ringo, David Onyemata and Shy Tuttle made huge saves in the running game.
End Marcus Davenport had a quietly effective outing. Davenport picked up a fumble on a PJ Williams sack, was terrific in supporting the race, and forced several presses that resulted in sacks. Linebackers Demario Davis and Kwon Alexander were instrumental throughout the pitch.
Cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Paulson Adebo had spectacular outings. They were instrumental in keeping Carolina spreaders DJ Moore and Robby Anderson just 5 receptions for 39 yards on 10 targets.
The Saints had a suffocating team defensive effort. However, two players stood out with spectacular days to keep the franchise’s playoff push alive.
CHAUNCEY GARDNER-JOHNSON, S
Gardner-Johnson was a factor all over the field. He only had one tackle, but helped modify several plays in support of the run for his teammates to make the stop.
With FS Marcus Williams sidelined by Covid and PJ Williams leaving the game with an injury, Gardner-Johnson made a big cover. He interrupted a pitch and intercepted Darnold in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
Gardner-Johnson showcased the depth of one of the NFL’s best defensive backfields. He provided cover just as stifling as Lattimore and Adebo from the slot machine, often allowing Darnold to go nowhere with the football.
CAMERON JORDAN, FROM
Jordan put in another outing worthy of All-Pro consideration. He had 3.5 bags of Darnold, bringing his total to 11.5 bags for the year. This is the sixth time in his 11-year career that he has hit double-digit sacks, including the fourth in the past five seasons.
More than mere terror for Darnold when he returned to pass, Jordan was a threat to the entire Panthers offensive. He’s tied with Kwon Alexander for a record 8 tackles, including six solo saves and three losses.
Jordan was a postman along the rim and also when he moved inside. After a calm start to the year that drew criticism in some circles, he has lost 7.5 sacks and 6 tackles in his last three games.
The Saints must now beat their biggest rival, the Atlanta Falcons, to stand a chance of making the playoffs. These teams met once in the playoffs, a Wild-Card clash in 1991. For the Saints, it’s the biggest regular-season game in their 105-game rivalry with Atlanta.
New Orleans will need help qualifying for the playoffs in a year full of grueling obstacles. With championship defense across the board and attacking players finally playing, the Saints will be a tough matchup for anyone if they get there.