Saints hold back players, look ahead in finale loss to Panthers

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NEW ORLEANS – It had the feel and look of a preseason game. The only thing missing were expanded rosters. Somehow, you knew both Sean Payton and Ron Rivera wish they had expanded rosters for this one.

Payton and the New Orleans Saints resisted the urge to satisfy numbers. Piling up statistics is a good thing. They are deserved, in most cases. They are historic, in many cases.

Ultimately, it is about trying to win and win big.

To do so, you have to be as healthy as possible in January and into February.

To that end, Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Ted Ginn, Jr., Larry Warford, Terron Armstead and Jermon Bushrod were all inactive for the Panthers game. Brees could have reached 4,000 yards for his 13th straight season with the Saints with just eight yards passing. Kamara could have broken Dalton Hilliard’s record of 18 touchdowns in a single season had he played.

Michael Thomas did play and he did break Joe Horn’s single season receiving yards record.

That was the highlight, along with Horn appearing to tons of adoring fans at the Saints Hall of Fame Museum before the game, of an otherwise dreary afternoon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on a dreary day outdoors.

The game meant nothing. It looked that way for the Saints, who appeared to accomplish their primary goals, including getting Teddy Bridgewater in a game and escaping without any additional serious injuries.

Here are my quick takes from Carolina’s 33-14 victory over New Orleans:

**Once again, the Saints won the toss and deferred, giving the Panthers the ball first.

**Sheldon Rankins was banged up on the first play from scrimmage and left the field under his own power. He returned on the next defensive series.

**Alex Okafor went down later in the series. He had his left knee looked at and was able to leave the field under his own power. He later returned.

**Carolina took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards in 11 plays with Kyle Allen rushing one yard for a touchdown to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead with 10:04 to play in the opening quarter. The drive took 4:56 off the clock.

**Christian McCaffrey played just the first series of the game. He accounted for 40 yards on the drive and took a seat the rest of the way.

**The Saints opened up front with Max Unger at center, Cameron Tom and Will Clapp at the guard spots and Andrus Peat and Cornelius Lucas, III at the tackle spots.

**Peat went out banged up on the opening series and he was replaced at left tackle by Derek Newton. It was a hand injury.

**Carolina expanded the lead to 13-0 with 2:07 to play in the opening quarter, driving 89 yards in nine plays, taking 4:51 off the clock with Cameron Artis-Payne scoring on a 14-yard run. The extra point attempt by Chandler Catanzaro was no good, hitting the left upright.

**The big play of the drive was a 39-yard pass interference penalty against Eli Apple, who was beaten by Curtis Samuel, did not locate the ball, and ran right into Samuel.

**Bridgewater showed excellent elusiveness and strength running the ball when he raced eight yards for a first-down on the Saints’ next possession.

**The Saints drove to the Carolina 10-yard line and went for it on fourth-and-two. Bridgewater’s pass for Tre’Quan Smith in the end zone fell incomplete.

**Carolina then went on a 16 play, 90-yard drive, taking 7:25 off the clock with Allen hitting Ian Thomas on an eight-yard touchdown pass to make it 20-0 at the two-minute warning. The big play of the drive was a completion from Allen to D.J. Moore over Marshon Lattimore, who had tight coverage.

**The Panthers padded the lead with a 22-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro on final play of the half to make it 23-0. The drive covered 66 yards in seven plays, taking the final 1:28 off the clock in the half.

**Allen finished the first half 13-of-21 for 173 yards and a touchdown. Carolina had 251 total yards to just 95 for the Saints. The Panthers had the ball for 19 minutes to just 11 minutes for New Orleans.

**The Panthers made it 30-0 with 3:46 to play in the third quarter when Allen his Curtis Samuel on a 53-yard touchdown pass. Samuel got past Apple on the play and Chris Banjo was tardy getting there to help. The drive covered 75 yards in five plays, taking 2:34 off the clock.

**Thomas finally broke the franchise record for receiving yards in a single season with a six-yard touchdown catch from Bridgewater early in the fourth quarter. It gave Thomas 1,405 yards on the season.

**On the next play, Bridgewater hit Smith with a nine-yard touchdown pass to make it 30-7 with 13:28 to play in the game. The drive covered 75 yards in nine plays, taking 5:18 off the clock.

**Allen was drilled from behind by Marcus Davenport and knocked out of the game early in the fourth quarter, replaced by Garrett Gilbert.

**Carolina responded with a nine play, 42-yard drive, taking 5:11 off the clock with Catanzaro connecting on a 51-yard field goal to make it 33-7 with 8:17 to play in the game. The big play was a 31-yard completion from Garrett to Thomas, who was uncovered on the play on a coverage bust.

**Bridgewater capped off a non-descript afternoon with a poor decision and throw as he was picked off by Colin Jones with 6:48 to play. Bridgewater had time, locked in on Smith and threw into four white shirts, a very poor decision.

**Dwayne Washington then ripped off runs of 28 and 20 yards to set up a nine-yard touchdown run by Taysom Hill to make it 33-14 with 3:47 remaining. The drive was just four plays, 57 yards, taking just 1:23 off the clock.

**Washington finished with 11 carries for 108 yards.

For those who were concerned, if not very concerned with the performance by the Saints, do not fret it. This was not a game that the Saints showed up to compete it.

That said, if you want to be concerned, the one area to worry about heading into the playoffs is the secondary.

It is not fair to judge Bridgewater, given the circumstances. He played with a bunch of reserve offensive linemen, other than Max Unger. Ginn, Jr. did not play. Neither did Alvin Kamara. The young man has ability. He needed the experience and can learn from it.

The symmetry, the karma between the New Orleans Saints of 2009 and the New Orleans Saints of 2018 remains intact.

Both teams finished the regular season 13-3. Both teams lost to Carolina in a meaningless week 16 game with reserves on the field. Both teams suffered regular season losses to Carolina, Dallas and Tampa Bay.

Now, it is up to the 2018 Saints to replicate the postseason of its 2009 brethren. The script is intact. The stage is set. The bright lights will begin to shine on the black and gold in two weeks.

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Ken Trahan

Ken Trahan

Owner/CEO

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 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,…

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