Saddled with makeshift roster, Saints get mashed by Dolphins

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Zach Sieler, Ian Book
Dec 27, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Miami Dolphins defensive end Zach Sieler (92) sacks New Orleans Saints quarterback Ian Book (16) during the second half at Caesars Superdome (Photo: Stephen Lew).

To call the New Orleans Saints a MASH unit on Monday night would be accurate, if not an understatement.

New Orleans was without Kwon Alexander, James Carpenter, Demario Davis, Kaden Elliss, Carl Granderson, J.T. Gray, Jeff Heath, Jaylyn Holmes, Taysom Hill, Malcolm Jenkins, Jordan Mills, Ryan Ramczyk, Christian Ringo, Trevor Siemian, Adam Trautman and Dwayne Washington due to COVID-19 issues. Additionally, Terron Armstead was inactive with his knee injury.

Then, there were three coaches out as well.

Without 17 players, the Saints went into battle as an underdog, at home, against the Miami Dolphins.

Expectations outside of the locker room were subdued, and why not? Perhaps they were inside the walls as well, though we will never know that.

It was the first meeting between the two teams since 2017, when the Saints blanked the Dolphins 20-0 in London.

New Orleans had to start Caleb Benenoch at right tackle, opposite James Hurst at left tackle with both Armstead and Ramczyk out again, along with Jordan Mills. That was a very bad indication of what was to come.

Things could not have started worse for rookie Ian Book in his first NFL start. They never got any better for Book or the Saints.

Here are my Quick Takes from the 20-3 loss to Miami:

**On the third offensive play from scrimmage, Book threw in the flat for Lil’Jordan Humphrey, the pass was tipped by Andrew Van Ginkel, and Nik Needham picked it off and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown to give Miami a 7-0 lead with 10:25 to play in the opening quarter.

**On the second offensive series, Nick Vannett dropped an easy catch to help kill the drive before Book was sacked on third down by Christian Wilkins, forcing a punt.

**Miami increased the lead to 10-0 on a 48-yard field goal by Jason Sanders with 2:09 to play in the opening quarter.

**New Orleans had a chance to end the drive without points on a sack by Marcus Davenport, resulting in the fumble by Tua Tagovailoa but Braxton Hoyett, who had a chance to recover the fumble, failed to do so and the Dolphins kept possession and kicked the field goal.

**The Saints finished with minus two yards in the first quarter.

**The Saints finally got a drive going in the second quarter, going 55 yards in eight plays with Brett Maher kicking a 38-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 10-3 with 2:45 to play in the half.

**On the drive, Book completed a pair of passes for 23 yards and he was roughed completing the second one, a 12-yard completion to Alvin Kamara, resulting in a 15-yard penalty to help set up the field goal.

**Miami appeared to benefit from a call that went against the Saints prior to halftime on a 13-yard completion from Tagovailoa to Durham Smythe. The play was reviewed and the review took forever, or so it seemed, and the call was upheld despite replay in the stadium showing the ball clearly moving and apparently touching the ground.

**Cam Jordan then got a big sack, his second sack of the game, his eighth of the season, putting the ball at the New Orleans 41-yard line.

**Sanders then missed a field goal just wide right to end the half at 10-3.

**The Saints ran just 20 plays in the half for 67 yards.

**Marshon Lattimore came up with an interception of a bad throw by Tagovailoa, intended for Mike Gesicki, giving the Saints their best field position of the game at their own 36-yard line.

**Tre’Quan Smith went down in the first half with a chest injury and did not return.

**The Saints failed to do anything with the turnover and the dam finally broke as Miami drove 86 yards in nine plays, taking 4:30 off the clock with Tagovailoa hitting Jaylen Waddle with a 1-yard shovel pass for a touchdown to make it 17-3 with 5:10 to play in the third quarter.

**In desperation, the Saints opted to go for it on fourth-and-one from their own 38-yard line. The call was interesting, a roll-out right for Book, who had absolutely no one open and threw the ball away.

**Miami capitalized with a 34-yard field goal by Sanders to make it 20-3 with 12:05 to play in the game and that was it.

**Book had one brief moment to enjoy with a 56-yard completion to Humphrey late in the game but a few plays later, Book was picked off by Brandon Jones on a ball thrown right to him.

**New Orleans finished with just 158 yards of offense, including the big play to Humphrey.

**The Saints were 0-for-12 on third-down conversion attempts, the first time under Payton New Orleans has failed to convert on third down.

**Ironically, the last time the Saints failed to convert a third-down attempt was against the Nick Saban-coached Dolphins in 2005 in Baton Rouge in a 21-6 loss on Oct. 30 of that year, the Hurricane Katrina displacement season.

**For the second straight week, the Saints were held to single-digit scoring. The last time that happened was in 1997, Mike Ditka’s first season, when New Orleans was blanked in consecutive games, 13-0 to Carolina and 23-0 to San Francisco. Amazingly, the Saints won one of these two games this season, thanks to its defense and to its kicking game.

**Book finished 12-of-20 for 135 yards with two interceptions for a quarterback rating of 40.6.

With all due respect to those who said the Saints had a chance to win or would win this game, what could you have been thinking?

This 2021 New Orleans offense has been limited from the get-go with Jameis Winston and very limited without him. Without offensive linemen, without effective receivers outside of Marquez Callaway and with a fourth-string quarterback, what else could you have expected?

What we saw is exactly what you would expect from a team missing 17 players and three coaches.

It was too much, make that way too much to overcome.

As for Book, he really had no chance.

Of course, he made some shaky decisions and ate the ball a few too many times when he could have thrown it away but he was getting demolished because his offensive line was getting demolished, led by Benenoch, who was woefully inadequate and overmatched from the start. Book was sacked eight times and the Saints finished with just 164 yards of offense.

Book was supposed to sit, watch and learn in a virtual “redshirt” year but did not get that luxury. Taysom Hill and Winston should be happy they did not have to play behind this offensive line on this night.

For what it is worth, an interesting sidebar is that this was was the 24th straight loss by a Notre Dame quarterback starting in the NFL, the longest losing streak by any such school since 1950. The last Notre Dame quarterback to start and win was Brady Quinn in 2012.

Payton is an outstanding offensive coach and mind. That is not debatable.

Regardless of how sharp you are, if you do not have the players, you are not going to succeed.

There will have to be a heavy emphasis on restocking a barren offense in the offseason but first, there are a pair of games still to play.

With two division games remaining, the Saints no longer control their own destiny in terms of trying to make the playoffs.

Right about now, Payton is simply counting the days until he can get some key players back to give his team a chance to win a game.

Incidentally, the once vaunted home field advantage in the Dome is nowhere to be found. The Saints are now a dismal 1-5 in the building this season, having also won a “home” game at Jacksonville.

That win seems like a long, long time ago, watching the team wearing black-and-gold on this night. Quite a few of the players wearing the colors on this night have no business doing so in the near future.

The MASH unit got mashed.

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

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