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Jesse Pantuosco

Football Daily Dose

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Dose: Saints Squeak By

Tuesday, December 18, 2018


Scott Van Pelt led off Monday night’s post-game SportsCenter by asking what football fans have been wondering all week, “Who’s good?” Neither team was on Monday night, but in the end, New Orleans was, to put it lightly, a little less bad than Carolina. Buoyed by a late Alvin Kamara touchdown—his 16th of 2018—the Saints walked away 12-9 winners, taking another step toward home-field advantage while handing the free-falling Panthers their sixth straight defeat.

Needing a win to keep their dwindling playoff hopes alive, the Panthers drew first blood and they did it with trickery. Riverboat Ron Rivera dialed up a doozy on fourth-and-two from midfield with just under 11 minutes gone in the first quarter. Christian McCaffrey attempted his first career pass and he made it a good one, hitting scarcely-used backup tight end Chris Manhertz for a wide-open 50-yard touchdown. That marked the 26-year-old’s first career end-zone visit. It would also be the last time Carolina scored on offense.

 

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In less than a month, Drew Brees will blow out the candles on his 40th birthday cake. Most quarterbacks are long retired by that age, but Brees still has a few bullets left in the chamber. He’s aged like a fine wine with many pointing to 2018 as his magnum opus. The 18-year-vet has drawn plenty of MVP buzz (though my vote would be for Chiefs prodigy Patrick Mahomes), especially with New Orleans on the verge of claiming the NFC’s top playoff seed. But unfortunately for the Saints, and of course the thousands if not millions of desperate fantasy owners needing a big game from Brees to secure their playoff fortunes, the long-time signal-caller left his A-game back in the Big Easy.



Stifled by an inspired Panthers defense (much better than the one they’ve displayed in recent weeks), Brees stumbled to his lowest quarterback rating of the season in Week 15 (69.1) while failing to throw a touchdown pass for the first time since Week 4. Brees has long been celebrated for his laser accuracy, which is why it was borderline stunning when his second-quarter deep bomb wound up in the hands of Panthers cornerback James Bradberry, who returned the pick 30 yards to the Saints’ 42.

It was a rare misfire by Brees, though maybe not as rare as you might think. The former Super Bowl MVP has now been intercepted in four straight games, his longest streak since 2016. He’s contributed a pedestrian 87.6 quarterback rating while throwing for just 702 passing yards (175.5 per game) during that span. Notably, three of those games have come away from the Superdome (including Monday’s slop-fest at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte), where Brees has traditionally done his best work. That’s been true of New Orleans in general as the Saints have averaged 38 points at home this year compared to only 28.9 when playing elsewhere.

Carolina had a chance to capitalize on Brees’ gaffe, but as they have throughout their losing streak, the Panthers let a golden opportunity go to waste. Playing at much less than full strength, an ailing Cam Newton threw a duck to end the half, forcing an ill-advised pass to Devin Funchess in the end zone. Eli Apple read it like a book, jumping the route for an easy pick. Clearly the change of scenery has done wonders for Apple, who now has two interceptions in his first eight games for New Orleans after recording only one over his tumultuous 30-game stint with New York. Newton won’t use his troublesome shoulder as an excuse, but he certainly didn’t look like a healthy quarterback on Monday night, producing season-lows in yards (131), completion percentage (55.2), yards per attempt (4.52) and quarterback rating (52.5). In a game the Panthers desperately needed, Cam’s Superman cape was nowhere to be found.

Reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara couldn’t get anything going in the first half, but he saved his best for last, stampeding to 65 yards (50 rushing, 15 receiving) after halftime. The former Tennessee Volunteer turned the tide for New Orleans by breaking off a 16-yard touchdown gallop with 12:12 remaining in the fourth quarter. After losing so many battles to stud linebacker Luke Kuechly, who matched a season-best with 13 tackles in the losing effort, Kamara must have felt a substantial measure of satisfaction in getting the last laugh.

Rookie cornerback Donte Jackson aided the Saints’ touchdown drive by clobbering Michael Thomas on a deep pass from Brees, resulting in an 18-yard pass interference flag. Jackson redeemed himself somewhat by pick-sixing Brees on a botched two-point attempt, but his earlier mishap was emblematic of the Panthers’ continued lack of precision, a running theme throughout their six-game slide. Despite promises of a shootout (Vegas set the over/under at 50), Monday’s meeting between division rivals quickly devolved into a dumpster fire and the Panthers could do nothing to put out the flames. From a bone-headed roughing the kicker penalty (David Mayo was the perpetrator) to a drive-killing fumble by rookie receiver D.J. Moore (his third lost fumble of the year), Carolina’s penchant for shooting itself in the foot proved costly in Monday’s defeat.

Not that the Saints were much better. Tommylee Lewis did his best to give the game away by fumbling out of the end zone for a touchback with New Orleans looking to kill clock late in the fourth quarter. That brain cramp came just three plays after Kamara put New Orleans on his back by delivering a crucial fourth-down conversion. But as usual, the listless Panthers had no retort, folding on their final drive.

Newton’s incompletion on fourth down with 38 seconds left was a fitting end to both a frustrating night and a trying season for the Panthers, who head into their home finale next week with little to play for. The Panthers aren’t eliminated yet but they may as well be, holding less than a one-percent chance of reaching the postseason. Meanwhile the Saints can lock up the NFC’s top seed and the home-field advantage that comes with it by knocking off the Steelers in Week 16. If the Saints win out (they’ll meet the Panthers again in their regular season finale), New Orleans would finish at 14-2, which would top the franchise’s current high-water mark of 13 victories.


Quick Hits: Ito Smith will undergo season-ending knee surgery later this week. He’ll finish his rookie year with 467 yards (315 rushing, 152 receiving) and four touchdowns. With Smith sidelined, 2017 fifth-rounder Brian Hill will slide in as Tevin Coleman’s backup in Atlanta. … Todd Gurley is considered day-to-day with knee inflammation. The Rams’ bell-cow suffered his injury Sunday night against Philadelphia, but still managed 124 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in the losing effort. … Eagles head coach Doug Pederson announced that Nick Foles will draw another start against Houston in Week 16. Foles has been filling in for Carson Wentz, who is out with a broken vertebra in his back. The Eagles have held off on placing Wentz on injured reserve, though his odds of returning this year are slim to none. … Hunter Henry resumed practicing on Monday. The Chargers tight end once looked like a long shot to play this year but is now nearing full strength coming off an ACL tear he suffered in minicamp. … Melvin Gordon got in another limited practice on Monday. The Bolts running back is aiming to return Saturday against Baltimore after missing the last three games with a sprained MCL. Backfield-mate Austin Ekeler is also hoping to suit up, though he remains in the league’s concussion protocol. … According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Keenan Allen has a “legitimate” chance to play Saturday against the Ravens after sitting out most of Week 15 with a hip pointer. The former Cal Bear has had another brilliant year for the Chargers, leading L.A. in both catches (88) and receiving yards (1,074). … Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic believes it’s a “foregone conclusion” that head coach Steve Wilks will be relieved of his duties after the season. The former Panthers DC has had a disastrous debut season in Arizona, going 3-11 while squandering assets like David Johnson and Patrick Peterson. … Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin insists the team is standing pat with Chris Boswell at kicker. Boswell endured another rocky game in Week 15, shanking a 32-yarder in a victory over New England. … Marcus Murphy suffered a dislocated elbow in Sunday’s win over Detroit. With LeSean McCoy (hamstring) and Chris Ivory (shoulder) also ailing, undrafted Texas A&M alum Keith Ford could be tasked with leading the backfield Sunday in Foxboro. … Greg Olsen underwent foot surgery last week. Once among the most durable players in football, injuries have limited the 33-year-old to just 16 games over his last two seasons. Fourth-round rookie Ian Thomas has been filling in at tight end for Carolina. … Frank Gore picked up a sprained foot in Sunday’s loss to Minnesota, and according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the injury will keep him out for the remainder of 2018. Currently fourth on the NFL’s all-time rushing list, the 35-year-old hasn’t ruled out playing another season. … Giants head coach Pat Shurmur confirmed Eli Manning will start against the Colts in Week 16. The G-Men will be playing for pride after Sunday’s loss to Tennessee officially put an end to their playoff chances. … The Giants are hoping to have Odell Beckham back in the fold for Week 16. A quad injury has kept him out the past two games. … Logan Ryan will miss the rest of 2018 after breaking his fibula in Sunday’s win over the Giants. With Ryan’s season over, LeShaun Sims will handle slot corner duties for Tennessee down the stretch. … Randall Cobb has been placed in the league’s concussion protocol. The Packers slot receiver has had a down year, managing just 356 yards and two touchdowns over his eight appearances. … Green Bay claimed Kapri Bibbs off waivers from Washington on Monday. Bibbs’ arrival could be an indication that Aaron Jones, who injured his knee in Sunday’s loss to the Bears, is done for the year. … Eddie Jackson hurt his ankle in Sunday’s win over Green Bay, though the injury isn’t thought to be season-ending. The 26-year-old has been a nice find for the Bears, ranking third in the league with six interceptions while also holding PFF’s No. 1 coverage grade among safeties. … Tyler Boyd came away with a low-grade MCL sprain in Week 15. The former Pitt Panther has enjoyed a breakout year for Cincinnati, leading the Bengals in all major receiving categories including catches (76), yards (1,028) and touchdowns (seven). All are career-highs. … Leonard Fournette is expected to see limited practice reps this week while he works through a foot injury. The foot problem is likely why Fournette saw just one second-half touch in Sunday’s loss to Washington.



Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
Email :Jesse Pantuosco



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