Saints complete sweep of Panthers, take charge in NFC South

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NEW ORLEANS – To be great, you must always strive to be better, regardless of how good you are. Sean Payton is of that ilk and he wants that out of his teams.

With that in mind, let’s start with the need for improvement.

If you are looking for negatives, Wil Lutz missed an easy field goal, the Saints missed several chances to put the game away, there was a turnover by Josh Hill and there were four timeouts taken on offense with the play clock running down.

Enough of the negatives.

There are so many positives about the 2017 New Orleans Saints.

This team has overcome an enormous number of injuries to key players. The defense, despite the injuries, is much improved. It gave up just 14 points, in truth, to the Panthers.

The offense is refreshingly balanced, punishing folks in the run game and still making plays in the passing game.

Thomas Morstead is having a Pro Bowl year and Lutz, overall, has been good enough.

That is how you end a streak of three consecutive losing seasons, clinching your first winning season since 2013.

Here are my quick takes from the Saints 31-21 victory over Carolina:

**Marshon Lattimore was inactive, along with Marcus Williams in the Saints’ banged-up secondary.

**Carolina won the toss and deferred, giving the Saints the ball first.

**Reserve quarterback Taysom Hill was in on special teams as a gunner and played quite well. He had a good rush as an outside man on a Carolina punt as well.

**Newly activated Arthur Maulet of Bonnabel High School was on the kickoff team for the Saints to start the game. He later was flagged for an obvious block in the back, negating a big return by Tommylee Lewis.

**Andrus Peat started at left tackle with Senio Kelemete starting at left guard. Terron Armstead was active but did not start with his injuries.

**New Orleans drove smartly downfield for a touchdown on its first possession, going 70 yards in 11 plays, taking 4:45 off the clock.

**Alvin Kamara was the primary force, rushing for eight yards, catching a pass for 10 yards and scoring on a daring fourth-and-two when Sean Payton elected to go for it. Kamara took a pitch right, was contacted at the one-yard line, broke the tackle and scored to make it 7-0. The other big play on the drive was a 22-yard completion from Drew Brees to Michael Thomas.


**Kamara has now scored a touchdown in six straight games, becoming just the fourth player in franchise history to do so, joining Dalton Hilliard, Jimmy Graham and Pierre Thomas with that distinction.

**Carolina answered immediately, driving 75 yards in 10 plays, taking 5:06 off the clock with Jonathan Stewart scoring from two yards out to make it 7-7 with 5:09 to play in the first quarter.

**New Orleans went to its punishing running game to retake the lead, needing just three plays to do so. Mark Ingram broke perhaps the best run of his Saints career, racing 72 yards off the right side with great blocks by Ryan Ramczyk and Brandon Coleman, Kamara ran nine yards and then Ingram scored on a three-yard run go make it 14-7 with 11:32 to play in the half.

**It was the second longest run of Ingram’s career and it was the second longest non-touchdown run in franchise history.

**The touchdown was Ingram’s ninth rushing score of the season, tying his career high set in 2014.

**Panthers punter Michael Palardy then dropped a snap when he went to drop the ball for his punt, tried to throw the ball and it went incomplete, giving New Orleans the ball at the Carolina 31-yard line.

**It appeared Carolina got a stop when a pass from Drew Brees to Lewis went for just two yards on third-and-five to the Carolina 24-yard line but Julius Peppers committed an obvious, senseless personal foul on Lewis, throwing him to ground well out of bounds to give the Saints new life.

**Three plays later, Brees connected with Michael Thomas on a 10-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-7 with 7:21 to play in the half.


**The New Orleans defense forced four consecutive three-and-outs after giving up a touchdown on the opening drive.

**Josh Hill then hurt the Saints big time when he fumbled after an 11-yard catch from Brees when Hill was hit by safety Mike Adams with Luke Kuechly recovering at the New Orleans 45-yard line. It was the second costly fumble by Hill this season.


**Carolina took full advantage with Newton connecting with Christian McCaffrey on a 21-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-14 with 1:56 to play in the half.

**Trey Hendrickson left the game with an apparent left leg injury late in the second quarter. He returned midway through the third quarter and made a nice play on Christian McCaffrey.

**New Orleans finished the first half with 246 yards to 154 for Carolina.

**A.J. Klein had a big sack of Cam Newton for a 13-yard loss early in the third quarter to stop Carolina. Klein, a former Panther, had to enjoy the moment.

**The Saints increased the lead in the third quarter with an eight play, 67-yard drive with Kamara scoring from 20 yards out. As usual, he broke a tackle and raced into the end zone untouched to make it 28-1 with 8:10 to play in the third quarter. The key play of the drive was a 28-yard completion from Brees to Willie Snead on a third-and-five. The Saints will need more from Snead down the stretch.


**With the score, Kamara became the second rookie in franchise history to score 10 touchdowns in a season. George Rogers did it (13) in 1981, when he was NFL Rookie of the Year. It is safe to say that Kamara may be on his way to the same honor this season.

**New Orleans then drove to the Carolina 21-yard line. The drive stalled and Wil Lutz missed a 38-yard field goal wide right, keeping the Panthers squarely in the game with 1:18 to play in the third quarter.

**Early in the fourth quarter, Carolina drove to the New Orleans 12-yard line. On fourth-and-six, they went for it. Newton hit Devin Funchess for five yards but Ken Crawley tackled him short of the first down, giving the ball back to New Orleans with 11:17 to play.

**Chris Banjo forced the fumble with Craig Robertson recovering at the Carolina 47-yard line with 8:55 to play in the game.

**Brees moved into second place in all-time completions in NFL history, passing Peyton Manning with his 6,126th completion of his career, a perfectly thrown 32-yard effort in the fourth quarter. He trails only Brett Favre, who had 6,300 in his brilliant career.


**New Orleans put the game away after the completion to Thomas with a 31-yard field goal by Lutz to make it 31-14 with 6:08 to play in the game.

**The Saints took four timeouts on offense with the play clock running down toward zero, two in the first half and two in the second half.

**Carolina responded quickly, needing just five plays to go 75 yards with Newton connecting with Funchess on a 24-yard touchdown pass to make it 31-21 with 3:57 to play in the game. Newton had the big play on the drive with a 32-yard run.


**Carolina then appeared not to recover an onside kick but the officiating crew ruled that the Panthers had done so legally. The Saints wisely challenged and won the challenge as the Carolina player was clearly out of bounds.

**New Orleans put the game away on a 22-yard completion from Brees to Kamara on third-and-10 from midfield with two minutes to play in the game.

**Kamara became just the fourth rookie in NFL history to have 600 yards rushing and 600 yards receiving. The others were Charley Taylor (1964) with Washington, Billy Sims (1980) with Detroit and Herschel Walker (1986) with Dallas.

**Brees played very efficiently, completing 25-of-34 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Kamara had 14 touches for 126 yards and two touchdowns. Thomas has five catches for 70 yards and a touchdown. Ingram had the long run. The stars on the offense are obvious.

The Saints have their first winning season since 2013. They are on a fast path to the playoffs.

With a sweep of Carolina, New Orleans effectively has a two-game lead on the Panthers and now has a two-game lead on Atlanta. There are two games left with Atlanta, along with a home game with the Jets and a road game to close the season at Tampa Bay.

With all due respect, you would expect the Saints to win at home against New York and on the road at Tampa Bay. If they do, all that is required is a split with the Falcons to win the NFC South.

With Philadelphia, Minnesota and the Rams all playing well and ahead of the Saints in the NFC standings, getting a top two seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs will be tough. The goal is to win the division and get a first-round home game. Anything else, as we say here, is lagniappe.

It is on to Atlanta at a disadvantage. The Falcons will be desperate, needing a win to stay in the division race and to keep their playoff hopes alive after a home loss to the Vikings. They will be at home on a short week. They played an early game today while the Saints played a late game. New Orleans is traveling. Everything is set up for the home team in this one. Don’t bet against this Saints team. It is truly a different breed from what we have seen in recent years.

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Ken Trahan

Ken Trahan


Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE Owner and CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Football Foundation, College…

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