It’s extremely hard to win a football game when your defense is on the field for 41 minutes and 92 snaps. But remarkably, with Drew Brees admittedly not 100 percent and an offense missing top target Michael Thomas and only converting 1 of 11 on third down, the New Orleans Saints came pretty close.
But close doesn’t cut it against Patrick Mahomes and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Despite the Saints defense playing championship caliber – forcing a season-high six Chiefs punts, sacking Mahomes four times and forcing a fumble that led to a quick touchdown – the Saints only led for 4 minutes and 53 seconds in the third quarter and eventually lost, 32-29.
What Does It Mean?
This loss is painful to swallow when the 10-4 Saints realize they still have work to do now on a two-game skid, and on a short week with the NFC South title still yet to be clinched. (The Falcons blew yet another second-half lead Sunday to Tom Brady and the Bucs, so Tampa Bay is right there at 9-5). So sure, it would have been nice to lock up the title with an upset over the Chiefs, but at this point the Saints just have to get it done.
New Orleans has two more NFC games left, starting on Christmas Day hosting the Minnesota Vikings, who must win out and get help to make the postseason. If the Saints want to remain the No. 2 seed behind Green Bay, their final two games are virtual must-wins. See the playoff picture.
It’s time for the Saints to take care of business and fight for what they want – as a team. Maybe the Saints will get another chance at the Chiefs at full strength in Super Bowl LV. But first priority is a fourth straight NFC South title.
Now doesn’t that sound like a great Christmas gift for New Orleans?
Given Hill’s rushing ability and the Falcons’ strength against the run (ranked 6th entering Week 11) and their porous passing defense (31st in the NFL), we knew both teams would bring their best game plans to this historically intense division rivalry.
What we didn’t know was how relentlessly the Saints defense would pressure Matt Ryan and make it look like it was his first NFL start. New Orleans feasted on eight sacks (three by Cam Jordan) and two interceptions and limited the Falcons to 2-of-14 on 3rd-down conversions, keeping the visiting Dirty Birds out of the end zone in a 24-9 victory. Coupled with Green Bay’s loss at Indianapolis, the Saints are now in sole possession of the NFC’s top spot at 8-2 as they ride a seven-game winning streak into Thanksgiving.
Remember when New Orleans was 1-2 after falling flat to the Packers in a fanless Mercedes-Benz Superdome? That 37-30 loss feels like a long time ago, doesn’t it? Now I’ll be the first to say many of the Saints’ wins have been downright ugly, but their defense the past three games has been nothing short of outstanding. Let’s look at the numbers:
Give credit to Dennis Allen for suffocating Tom Brady & the Bucs, the 49ers and now the Falcons. The Saints trailed against both San Francisco and Atlanta, but again they were resilient without Drew Brees at the helm. Their star quarterback will be out at least two more games with 11 rib fractures and a punctured lung, and I’m of the opinion the Saints should let Brees recover until their marquee matchup Dec. 20 against Patrick Mahomes and the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs – the next time they’ll be in the Dome after three straight road contests.
Taysom Hill didn’t play perfectly Sunday with some passes badly underthrown and a lost fumble for the second straight game. His stats won’t pop off the charts either (18-of-23 passing for 233 yards with two rushing touchdowns). But with the way the Saints defense is playing, Hill doesn’t need to be perfect – he just needs to build on Sunday’s performance in the next three games against opponents that are mediocre at best:
Nov. 29, 3:05 p.m. CT: at Broncos (4-6)
Dec. 6, noon CT: at Falcons (3-7)
Dec. 13, 3:25 p.m. CT: at Eagles (3-6-1)
So with six games left in the regular season, the Saints just have to keep winning and they’ll have a chance to lock up the No. 1 seed and the only first-round bye in the new playoff format. It’s all there for the taking. They just have to remain resilient.