With the #1 seed in the NFC locked up, the New Orleans Saints did not have much to play for on Sunday in their regular season finale against the Carolina Panthers. A win would have given this 2018 team the best record in Saints history and Michael Thomas was 24 yards short of breaking Joe Horn’s franchise record for receiving yards in a season, but that was about it. The main goal was to get in and out of the game healthy, which, despite a few minor scares with starters going down in the first half, they ultimately did. Aside from that, it was nothing but a chance for some lesser used players to see some action. I have a few “Saints” for you, but as far as the “Sinners” go, there was not a ton to be upset with. That is for later, though. So, with that being said, let’s get to it.
It was far from Teddy’s most impressive performance of his career, but considering that this was his first regular season appearance outside of mop-up duty since his horrific knee injury, I thought he played fairly well. His stats won’t show that, with only 118 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, and a 73.7 QB rating, but it was more about the eye test. He looked confident and anything but scared or nervous, which you may expect from a guy having gone through what he has. He used his legs to move in and out of the pocket and even scrambled a few times. Whether or not he proved to the Saints or even some other teams that he is capable of being their next starting quarterback is a bigger question that we likely will not know the answer to for some time, but all in all, I was impressed.
Also seeing his most consistent action as far as offensive snaps go, Washington had the running back stage all to himself in the second half. He ran with the opportunity, no pun intended. Gaining 108 yards on just 11 carries, with a yards per carry average of 9.8, Washington did all he could to prove to Sean Payton that he may be capable of giving both Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram a few snaps of rest from time to time.
It was about as quiet of a game for Thomas as you can expect, but he accomplished what he was on the field to do. It took longer than anyone could have hoped for, but he was able to record 29 receiving yards to bring his season total to 1,405, breaking Joe Horn’s single season franchise record. It has been accomplishment after accomplishment in the third year receiver’s short career, with another one coming only days after Sunday’s finale. This week, he was named to the NFL All-Pro team for the first time as the Saints’ only First Teamer.
2nd Half Defense
Things did not go well for the defense in the first half, which we will get to in a bit, but things improved significantly in the second half. That was, in large part, to some of the other defensive guys seeing opportunities. Chris Banjo, Justin Hardee, and Manti Te’o are just a few of the guys that saw some extra snaps and were flying around the field making the most of it. They brought energy, intensity, and a clear will to make the most of their time on the field.
1st Half Defense
As I alluded to earlier, the defensive play in the first half was far from what we have come to expect for this young, hungry defense. Look, I get it, taking the field for this game was essentially a formality for the starters and their only goal was to stay healthy. In the grand scheme of things, the game did not matter as far as moving forward in 2018 goes. Maybe I was being naive, but I still expected more from them. I thought from a momentum standpoint, they would come out and try to get back on track after what was not their best performance a week ago against Pittsburgh. Especially in the secondary. I also thought that the possibility to get a win and secure a 14-2 record, which would have been the best in franchise history, would light more of a fire. I was wrong and although I am sitting here criticizing them, I will gladly admit that I was wrong about the momentum thing if they come out in the Divisional round hitting on all cylinders.
It was not a win on the scoreboard, but as long as the minor injuries to the guys like Sheldon Rankins, Alex Okafor, and Andrus Peat are nothing going forward, it was still a win. I believe Rankins came back in to the game, which shows he was nothing but shaken up, while Okafor and Peat were held out as precautions. There does not seem to be much reason for concern, but I am sure we will all breathe collective sighs of relief once the injury reports come out next week and we know for sure. Aside from that, the New Orleans Saints finished 13-3, are the #1 seed in the NFC, and the road to the Super Bowl comes through the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. That is a hell of regular season. Let’s not stop now, though. See y’all in the playoffs!
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