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Week 16 Game Recap: New Orleans Saints 38, Tennessee Titans 28


What you need to know

New Orleans Saints

A week after Drew Brees set records, it was Michael Thomas this week setting his own. Thomas set the single season record for receptions this week and has another game to go to extend his lead. It was a back and forth affair between the Saints and Titans this week. Brees had trouble connecting with his receivers in the early going and the Saints dug themselves into a 14-0 hole before the offense woke up. The Saints offense exploded in the 3rd quarter, scoring 21 points and taking control of the game. Alvin Kamara finally got going with 2 touchdowns and leading the team in rushing this week. The Saints are currently sitting in the second seed position in the NFC playoffs and close the regular season against the Panthers. A win in week 17 and a loss by San Francisco would give the Saints the top seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. There is still a lot for the Saints to play for in the final week of the regular season.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans came up short against the Saints as Ryan Tannehill put up three touchdowns and 274 passing yards while Dion Lewis led the backfield with Derrick Henry sidelined. Tajae Sharpe led the team in targets and caught two touchdowns on the day, while Jonnu Smith hauled in the other receiving touchdown and finished with 63 yards. A.J. Brown was minimally involved through the air, but he had a 49-yard rushing touchdown. Dion Lewis was relatively effective leading the backfield, but he was nothing close to Derrick Henry’s level.

New Orleans Saints

QB Drew Brees, 68 offensive snaps, Pass: 27 - 38 - 279 - 3 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 3 - -3 - 0
It was a less than spectacular start for Brees this week. The offense just could not move the ball in the 1st half and punted on 4 of their first 5 drives. They went 3 and out on 2 of those drives and there just looked to be no spark in the offense. It looked to be a let down game after everyone was chasing records last week. Then Brees connected with Jared Cook on a crossing pattern and the big tight end rumbled 61 yards down the sideline for a touchdown. It was the longest play of the game for the Saints and helped jump start an offense that woke up in the second half. Brees helped move the chains and manage the game while Kamara scored 2 touchdowns in the second half and then he struck again. Brees completed a long 23-yard play deep down the left sideline to Taysom Hill and then found Cook in the right side of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown on the very next play. It was a play action pass with Brees attacking the seam and fitting a ball perfectly between 3 defenders to Cook for the score. Brees would strike 1 more time in the game but it took 2 attempts to Thomas to get this touchdown. Originally it looked like a 14-yard touchdown to Thomas, but the play was reviewed and eventually overturned the with ball being spotted at the 1-yard line. A failed Latavius Murray run gave Brees and Thomas another chance on the next play. It was a short and sweat slant pattern for a 2-yard touchdown that gave Brees his 3rd touchdown pass of the game and the Saints a 10-point cushion. There looked to be a little bit of celebration hang over from setting records the week before but Brees settled into form and kept the Saints firmly entrenched in the second seed for the NFC.

QB Taysom Hill, 25 offensive snaps, Pass: 1 - 2 - 20 - 0 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 2 - 11 - 0, Rec: 2 - 21 - 0 (2 targets)
The man continues to do it all for the Saints. He threw a 20-yard pass, ran for 11 yards, and caught a 23-yard pass this week. He can line up all over the field and make plays for the Saints. He caught both of his targets, including a 23-yard deep ball down the sideline from Brees. His only other catch was a screen that got blown up for a loss of 2 yards. The Saints had him throw 2 passes this week in an effort to show teams that they are not afraid to use him as a quarterback. He is a threat to break a long run every time he touches the ball and continues to be a valuable weapon for this offense.

RB Alvin Kamara, 44 offensive snaps, Rush: 11 - 80 - 2, Rec: 6 - 30 - 0 (7 targets)
It seemed like a long time coming, but Kamara finally broke through this week. He did not rush for 100 yards or catch 10 passes this week, but he did finally find the end zone for the first time since week 3 against Seattle. His first score gave the Saints their first lead of the game and came on the opening drive of the second half. After a great kick off return and a defensive pass interference call, the Saints found themselves on the Titans 40-yard line. Kamara slipped through a hole off the left guard and sprinted down the side line and into the end zone for a touchdown. This is the type of big play we are accustomed to seeing from Kamara and have been missing in recent weeks. After the defense forced a punt on the next drive, Kamara punched in a 1-yard score off the left tackle to add to his impressive day. He saw a goal line carry go to Murray later in the game, but that is normal for the Saints to spread the ball around. Kamara also caught 6 of his 7 targets this week with the longest pass going for 14 yards. The Saints needed him to get going down the stretch and hopefully this will jump start him heading into the playoffs.

RB Latavius Murray, 25 offensive snaps, Rush: 7 - 14 - 0, Rec: 2 - 11 - 0 (3 targets)
It was an all-around quiet day for Murray this week. The only real noise he made was on a goal line carry in the 4th quarter that he was stuffed for a loss of a yard. The touchdown went to Thomas on the very next play and Murray did not have any other great chances. He rushed the ball 7 times and averaged 2 yards per carry. He also caught 2 of his 3 targets with the longest going for 7 yards. The Saints have used Murray extensively this season to try and keep Kamara healthy, but we are going to see them lean on Kamara down the stretch and into the playoffs.

WR Michael Thomas, 61 offensive snaps, Rec: 12 - 136 - 1 (17 targets)
After the Saints game plan revolved around Brees setting the touchdown pass record a week ago, this week was all about Thomas setting the single season reception record. Brees threw 17 passes his way this week and Thomas was able to make the catch 12 times. He broke the record by 1 and will have another week to extend his lead when the Saints take on the Panthers. Thomas caught short slants, easy comeback routes, and a couple deep outs to set the record this week. The Saints were clearly favoring him to try and set the record this week. He also caught a 2-yard touchdown on a quick slant late in the 4th to give the Saints a 10-point lead. It originally looked like he had caught a 14-yard touchdown on the drive, but the play was overturned, and the ball placed on the 1-yard line. His longest play of the game went for 26 yards and Thomas was the only player to break 100 yards receiving for either team. This week was all about sheer volume for Thomas and it came at the expense of Ginn and Smith. The offense will most likely be more balanced next week and heading into the playoffs now that Thomas already has the record.

WR TreQuan Smith, 38 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 13 - 0 (2 targets)
This week was all about getting the ball to Thomas and setting another record for the Saints. Smith only saw 2 targets the entire game and caught 1 of them for 13 yards. He has carved out a bigger role in recent weeks at the expense of Ted Ginn, but he is still not a primary weapon in this offense. The big 3 of Thomas, Cook, and Kamara are the main driving forces for this offense and Smith is going to have to fight for every catch the rest of the way.

WR Ted Ginn, 25 offensive snaps (1 targets)
The disappointing second half of the season continued for Ginn after he was targeted a single time and failed to make the catch this week. Ginn has seen his target shares be spread out to a thriving Cook and Tre’Quan Smith who is trying to carve out a bigger role. Ginn is still the Saints best deep threat but they have not been looking for that long home run play in recent weeks. Ginn is a great weapon when playing from behind and that is just not something that Saints have done a lot this season.

TE Jared Cook, 36 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 84 - 2 (4 targets)
Scoring 2 touchdowns while only having 3 catches is a very good day for anyone. Cook continues to excel in this offense now that he is healthy and has had more time with Brees. His first touchdown went for 61 yards after he caught a short crossing pattern and turned up the sideline. It looked like he was just going to take the first down and step out of bounds, but he was able to sneak past a defender and turn on the jets down the sideline for the score. It was the big play the Saints needed to get the offense going after they had dug a 14-3 hole in the first half. This was by far the longest play of the game for the Saints and the longest of the season for Cook. His second touchdown was a 16-yard strike up the seam to Cook. The play action fake got the defense to bite and Brees laid the ball perfectly over Cook’s shoulder and between 2 defenders for the touchdown. Cook now has 8 touchdowns for the season and looks every bit the part of the TE1 they hoped they were getting when he signed in the off season.


Tennessee Titans

QB Ryan Tannehill, 62 offensive snaps, Pass: 17 - 27 - 272 - 3 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 1 - 8 - 0
Ryan Tannehill played a solid game despite the losing effort against the Saints this week. He had pressure in his face for most of the day with a familiar struggling offensive line that contributed to Tannehill going down for five sacks--four of which came before halftime. Tannehill’s second drive of the game ended in a touchdown though, as he found Jonnu Smith wide open in the middle of the field for a 41-yard touchdown. Tannehill made a nice throw midway through the third quarter to connect with Corey Davis for a 22-yard gain. Just three plays later, Tannehill did a great job buying time until throwing cross-field to Tajae Sharpe for what would end up being a 36-yard touchdown. The completion came just five yards from the line of scrimmage, but Tannehill had scrambled probably 20 yards back before pulling the trigger on the throw and allowing Sharpe to do the rest. Tannehill would connect with Sharpe again a couple drives later as he threw what may have been his best ball of the day, finding Sharpe in the back of the end zone from seven yards out. Tannehill had nobody open, but Sharpe stayed with the play and Tannehill put the throw where nobody but Sharpe could elevate to grab it in the back of the end zone. The Titans and Tannehill caught a bad break on the next drive as Tannehill completed a nice deep ball to Kalif Raymond, but Raymond took a hard hit and fumbled it right back to the Saints. On the final drive of the game, Tannehill connected with A.J. Brown for the first time on a well-thrown 34 yard deep ball on the left side of the field. Tannehill lofted the ball just enough to hit Brown in stride down the sideline, but that would be his last completion of the day as the Titans fell short.

RB Dion Lewis, 43 offensive snaps, Rush: 15 - 68 - 0, Rec: 1 - 19 - 0 (2 targets)
Dion Lewis got the start in place of an injured Derrick Henry and was reasonably productive in the backfield, averaging 4.5 yards per carry for 68 rushing yards while adding on a catch for 19 yards. That one reception came in the first quarter on nicely executed screen where Lewis did a great job following his blockers for the 19-yard gain--his biggest play of the day. Lewis fought hard for a 12-yard run just before halftime as he hit the hole hard and got a great push from his offensive line to grind out the 12 yards. Lewis had another big run on the first drive of the second half as he appeared to run into a wall about three-yards downfield, but instead made a nice cut to the right and accelerated towards the right sideline to complete a 17-yard run.

WR Tajae Sharpe, 39 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 69 - 2 (6 targets)
Tajae Sharpe had a big day as he led the Titans in targets and found the end zone for his third and fourth touchdowns of the season. His first touchdown came on a play where Sharpe did a nice job finding open space in the defense just in time for Tannehill to find him about __-yards downfield. Sharpe then turned up towards the end zone and made it in for the 36 yard touchdown reception. He would grab a couple short passes on third downs during the following possession. Sharpe then scored his second touchdown of the game midway through the fourth quarter as he was the recipient of a bullet from Tannehill, elevating in the back of the end zone to snare the catch from seven yards out.

WR Corey Davis, 44 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 40 - 0 (4 targets)
Corey Davis had another quiet day as he caught three of his four targets. Of his two top plays, the first included a 12-yard catch on the second drive of the game where he fought for a Titans first down. His longest catch of the game came midway through the third quarter as Davis was was wide open near the left sideline and elevated to make the catch and complete a 22-yard gain. Davis would get evaluated for a concussion late in the game as well.

WR A.J. Brown, 62 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 49 - 1, Rec: 1 - 34 - 0 (2 targets)
A.J. Brown saw just two targets with one reception in this game as he had a minimal impact through the air. What vaulted Brown into the end zone was actually a running play midway through the first quarter. Brown was lined up on the right side and swung left through the backfield, taking a pitch from Tannehill and immediately cut back to the middle of the field as he read the blocks downfield. Brown made it through one tackle attempt and outran the entire defense on his way to the 49-yard touchdown run to put the Titans up by two scores. Brown did haul in a 15-yard reception on the next drive, but it was called back due to an offensive holding penalty. His only actual reception of the game came late in the fourth quarter on a deep ball from Tannehill down the left sideline. Brown hauled it in over his shoulder as Tannehill hit him perfectly in stride.

TE Jonnu Smith, 51 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 63 - 1 (4 targets)
Jonnu Smith’s day got started with a bang as his first touch of the game was a 41-yard touchdown, the second-longest play of the game for this Titans offense. The defense bit on play action while Smith ran a great route down the seam to find himself wide open in the middle of the field. Smith then showed that spectacular acceleration, even outrunning cornerback Marshon Lattimore on his way to the end zone. Smith would lead off the following drive with another nice play as he caught a short pass just about a yard from the line of scrimmage, but got the advantage of a terrible angle taken by the Saints defender as Smith accelerated down the left sideline for a 17-yard gain.