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Week 17 Game Recap: New Orleans Saints 42, Carolina Panthers 10


What you need to know

New Orleans Saints

This game ended up being a blow out and Drew Brees did not even play in the 4th quarter. The Saints finish the regular season 13-3 and the Panthers end the season wondering what could have been if they had a quarterback. New Orleans was up 35-3 at half time and could have pulled their starters much earlier. Alvin Kamara continued his rebound with another 2 touchdown performance and newly acquired Janoris Jenkins came down with his first interception for the Saints. The defense held Christian McCaffrey in check until allowing a late touchdown but was solid otherwise. Teddy Bridgewater needed 1 more touchdown pass to unlock a $250,000 bonus, but despite playing the entire 4th quarter he finished with just a single passing attempt. The Saints anxiously watched the Seattle and San Francisco game later in the night with the outcome determining if they would get the Vikings on Wild Card weekend or a 1st round Bye. Seattle came up just short at the end and now the Saints will play host to the Vikings next weekend. It will be interesting to see if the decision to not pull starters soon plays a role after the Vikings rested all of their starters against the Bears this week.

Carolina Panthers

The Will Grier experiment didnít last long as an injury robbed him of a full second start. Things werenít going smoothly when he was in the game, however, with a pick-six the low point of a forgettable performance from an overwhelmed player. Kyle Allen fared a little better in relief but showed some of the same deficiencies as he had in previous games. Christian McCaffrey was largely shut down on the ground, and even his receiving game prowess was snuffed out by ineffective quarterback play and a disciplined Saints defense. Among the receivers, Brandon Zylstra stood out with some downfield feats of athleticism, but they were mostly kept quiet by inaccurate passes. Greg Olsen was targeted twice in the end zone and could have had a touchdown to sign off, but the passes were off the mark.

New Orleans Saints

QB Drew Brees, 56 offensive snaps, Pass: 19 - 30 - 253 - 3 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 1 - -1 - 0
The Saints were hoping for a few more things to happen in other games this week so they could secure a first-round bye. That can be the only reason why they would leave Brees in so long when the game was a blow out before half time. He extends his own touchdown record by adding another 3 this week and staying ahead of Tom Brady on the all-time list. He missed on 11 throws this week and did not have quite the same chemistry with Michael Thomas as usual, but the most important part was he did not get sacked or hurt this week. Brees first touchdown went to Tre'Quan Smith when the score was already 21-0. It was an easy 1-yard throw but a great example of why he is such a great quarterback. Smith ran a route along the back of the end zone and through all of the traffic he came free after Brees made a small shoulder fake and got the defense to bite to the middle of the field. There was no one within 3 yards of Smith in the back of the end zone for the touchdown. His second score was a 21-yard strike up the seam to Jared Cook to continue the big tight ends bounce back this season. Brees put the ball perfectly to his outside shoulder and away from the defender for the score. His final touchdown came at a time when he had no business still being in the game. It was a short dump of pass to Taysom Hill in the flat on 3rd and 7. It should have just been an easy 1st down conversion, but Hill saw nothing but green when he turned up field. He followed a single block by a receiver 15 yards in front of him and poor pursuit by a defense that had given up at that point led to a 45-yard score and the end of Brees day. They did not get the results they wanted from other games and will play host to the Vikings on Wild Card weekend next week.

QB Teddy Bridgewater, 11 offensive snaps, Pass: 1 - 1 - 14 - 0 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 3 - -3 - 0
This was a chance for the Saints to do something special for Bridgewater. He had a clause in his contract that if he hit 10 touchdown passes for the season, he would make a $250,000 bonus. They did give him a chance in the 4th quarter when they finally pulled Brees, but Bridgewater finished the game with 1 passing attempt. It was a 14-yard check down to Murray and that was it. This game got out of hand quickly and the Saints could have easily pulled Brees and several other starters much earlier. Bridgewater kept this team afloat when Brees went down with an injury, the least they could have done was give him a shot at securing the bonus this week. They forced the issue with Brees and Thomas chasing records but did not want to give Bridgewater a shot at his bonus.

QB Taysom Hill, 34 offensive snaps, Rush: 2 - 4 - 0, Rec: 1 - 45 - 1 (1 targets)
It took a late touchdown by Hill in the 3rd quarter to end the day for Brees and show just how much the Carolina defense had given up at this point. It was a 3rd and 7 play with Brees just dumping the ball off to Hill in the flat. There was no defender within 5 yards of him and it looked to just be an easy conversion for a first down. Hill turns up field and sees nothing but grass in front of him. He follows a block by a receiver down field and realizes there is almost no pursuit from the Carolina defense. The result of the play was a 45-yard touchdown, 42 total points for the Saints, and a great play to end the day for Brees. Hill did not have a passing attempt this week and ran the ball twice for just 4 yards. He did not have any other targets in the offense this week and the Saints will have them in their back pocket for a playoff run.

RB Latavius Murray, 37 offensive snaps, Rush: 17 - 61 - 0, Rec: 1 - 14 - 0 (1 targets)
Murray finishes the regular season with 146 carries for 637 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground for the Saints. He got his chances this season filling in for Kamara when he was injured and proved that he can be a key piece in this offense. Murray was given 17 carries this week and carried the load the entire 4th quarter. His longest run went for 13 yards and finished this game with a 3.6 yards per carry average. His only target and catch came on the 14-yard dump off by Bridgewater in the 4th quarter. Murray ended up having nearly half of the 35 total carries for the Saints this week and again showed his ability to hold on to the ball and help burn clock at the end of a game. The Saints are going to lean on Kamara in the playoffs but there should still be a rather big role for Murray as well. It will not be a 50/50 split like it has been at times this season but he has earned his playoff spot.

RB Alvin Kamara, 28 offensive snaps, Rush: 8 - 39 - 2, Rec: 2 - 18 - 0 (3 targets)
It had been a season to forget for Kamara until the past 2 weeks. He exploded with 2 touchdowns in each of his last 2 games and was pulled this week before the 4th quarter started. Kamara needed just 8 carries to get his 2 touchdowns this week and saw the majority of the work go to Latavius Murray late in this one. His 1st touchdown was also his longest run of the game. Kamara took the handoff from the pistol formation and weaved his way up the middle for a 15-yard score. He was untouched until the second level and used his blockers in front of him to get in for the score. His 2nd touchdown came after a successful pass interference challenge by the Saints put the ball on the 1-yard line. Kamara followed his pulling guard and full back off the left tackle for the score. He had to run through Luke Keuchly at the goal line making for an impressive mix of speed and power. Kamara chipped in 2 catches on 3 targets with the longest also going for 15 yards this week. It has been a very up and down season for Kamara, but he ended the regular season on a high note and looks to be healthy heading into the playoffs.

WR TreQuan Smith, 43 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 56 - 1 (5 targets)
The Saints have been operating this offense without a true 3rd receiver for the majority of the season, but Smith finally stepped up and filled that role this week. He was given a much bigger chunk of targets this week as the Saints started resting other players and he made the most of it. Smith caught all 5 of his targets and led the team in receiving with 56 yards and a touchdown. His longest catch went for 32 yards on a deep shot down the side line. This is a play that would normally be reserved for Ginn, but Smith has eaten into his playing time and targets. His touchdown catch came from 1-yard out and put the Saints up 28-0. Brees took the shot gun snap and had a clean pocket to survey the field. He gave a small shoulder fake to the middle of the field and this helped break Smith free in the back of the end zone. The slow drag route came open as he approached the corner of the end zone and there was no defender within 3 yards of him when he made the catch. The fake by Brees and traffic across the middle made for a wide open Smith and easy touchdown.

WR Michael Thomas, 46 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 37 - 0 (9 targets)
With the single season receptions record firmly in hand and this game well out of reach, Thomas was able to take a breather in the second half of this one. There were not many games where you did not see Thomas' name at the top of the receiving box score for the Saints this season, but they just did not need him this week. He still led the team in targets with 9, but only caught 4 of those passes. There was a defensive pass interference challenge that setup Kamara's second rushing touchdown that could have easily been a 25-yard touchdown for Thomas instead if the interference had not happened. Outside of that deep shot down the sideline it was a quiet day for Thomas. His longest catch went for 14 yards and he finishes the year with 149 catches, 1,725 yards, and 9 touchdowns. A matchup against Xavier Rhodes and the Vikings defense next week should prove to be one of the tougher tests for Thomas in recent weeks.

WR Ted Ginn, 18 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 10 - 0 (2 targets)
The downward trend continued for Ginn again this week after he finished with a single catch on just 2 targets. Seeing the Saints score 42 points would lead most to believe that Ginn played a bigger role but that just has not been the case in the second half of the season. Ginn has seen his targets go to Tre'Quan Smith and Jared Cook in recent weeks. The Saints have been methodical moving up and down the field and just have not needed Ginn to take the top off the defense. Competition for targets is becoming very difficult in this Saints offense.

TE Jared Cook, 26 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 44 - 1 (2 targets)
The turn around season continued for Cook again this week. He finished 3rd on the team in receiving this week with just 2 catches. Both were deep shots up the seam to the big tight end. The first was a 23-yard catch for his longest play of the game and the second was his own 21-yard touchdown catch. Cook ran free up the seam and Brees put the ball on him in the end zone for an easy score. The placement was perfect by Brees and Cook used his big body to box out the defender from making a play on the ball in the air. He has certainly turned things around after a very slow start to the season and finishes the season with 43 catches for 705 yards and 9 touchdowns.


Carolina Panthers

QB Kyle Allen, 54 offensive snaps, Pass: 25 - 41 - 295 - 0 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 2 - 5 - 0
Kyle Allen came into the game in the second quarter after an injury to Will Grier. Much like previous games of Allenís, he showed well at times and delivered some catchable passes on time; at others, he was inaccurate and indecisive, showing poor pocket awareness. His best play came on a deep pass to Brandon Zylstra down the left sideline, with the ball laid in perfectly against tight coverage. Allen did well in the up-tempo approach the coaches called for in the second half, but ended the game inauspiciously with an end zone interception Ė something the team became far too acquainted with this season with Allen as the starter.

QB Will Grier, 17 offensive snaps, Pass: 1 - 8 - 4 - 0 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 3 - 5 - 0
Will Grier played only a handful of ineffective series before he was forced to leave the game with an injury. The Saints blitzed him heavily early on, forcing the ball to come out quickly. An early pass sent Greg Olsenís direction was looped up as Grier tried to get rid of the ball rather than take the hit and step into the throw. Grier took a lot of punishing hits as his inexperience in identifying the blitz and a porous offensive line left him out to dry. He fumbled the ball on an exchange with Christian McCaffrey, gifting the ball to the Saints. Before exiting the game, he threw a pick six as well, failing to read the zone dropping linebacker on a throw to Olsen. Grier was a touch late on the throw, allowing the defender to close in quickly for an easy touchdown.

RB Christian McCaffrey, 51 offensive snaps, Rush: 9 - 26 - 1, Rec: 7 - 72 - 0 (10 targets)
It was a memorable day for Christian McCaffrey from a personal perspective, as he became only the third player in NFL history to reach 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in one season. The coaches tried to get him established on the ground in the early stages, but the Saints defended the run well and forced McCaffrey to weave and bounce around hits. McCaffrey lost the football on an exchange with Will Grier, with the blame resting on both players. As a receiver he was his usually reliable self, but he failed to ignite in the passing game as both quarterbacks struggled with simple passes. McCaffrey got into the end zone in the fourth quarter after some good blocking near the goal line set him up for a short yardage score.

RB Reggie Bonnafon, 12 offensive snaps, Rush: 2 - 3 - 0, Rec: 2 - 39 - 0 (2 targets)
Reggie Bonnafon came into the game late as the Panthers opted to rest Christian McCaffrey. The young back showed well after Kyle Allen lofted a pass to him over the middle, exploiting the open spaces and showing good speed.

WR Brandon Zylstra, 32 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 96 - 0 (8 targets)
The former undrafted receiver Brandon Zylstra did his chances of sticking on the roster no harm with his performance. His diving sideline catch at full extension injected some much-needed life into a listless offense, following that up with another downfield grab that saw him tackled just short of the goal line. The short passing game was more of a challenge, with Saints defenders closing in quickly and getting physical with Zylstra at the catch point. Zylstra failed to catch a simple pass over the middle late in the game that would have extended a drive.

WR Curtis Samuel, 46 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 13 - 0 (4 targets)
Curtis Samuelís first target resulted in a defensive pass interference penalty. As he was attempting to reach for the underthrown pass, the defensive back yanked at him and the referees obliged. Samuelís next target was left too far out in front for him to catch. It was only when Kyle Allen came into the game to replace an injured Will Grier that Samuel came to life, though inaccurate passes meant he couldnít maximise his opportunities.

WR Jarius Wright, 38 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 10 - 0 (5 targets)
In the passing game by committee approach that Carolina had to figure out, Jarius Wright was among the safest pairs of hands. An early third down target sent his way was broken up, but the Will Grier pass was off target and made the play straightforward for the defender. A later target down the right sideline was wide of the mark, giving Wright no chance to make a play.

WR Chris Hogan, 63 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 14 - 0 (4 targets)
Oft-forgotten receiving option Chris Hogan made a couple of plays on short passes as the Panthers transitioned to an up-tempo approach in the second half but was largely anonymous against a defense that was primed to play the pass with a huge lead.

TE Greg Olsen, 26 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 12 - 0 (6 targets)
In what many presume was his final game as a pro, Greg Olsen fought hard but ultimately went only as far as his quarterbacks did; that is, not very. A high pass off play action early was a sign of things to come, the ball arcing high above Olsen. His next target came on a simple hitch route with the offense backed up against their own goal line. Olsen was open for a moment, but the Saints linebacker jumped it and ran the target back for a pick six. Olsen was targeted in the end zone on two occasions by Kyle Allen in the second half; the first was broken up and well covered, while the second was too high and gave the tight end no chance.

TE Ian Thomas, 42 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 12 - 0 (5 targets)
Greg Olsenís understudy failed to make much of an impact against the Saints, though he was a victim of the passing gameís ineptitude. Thomas was the target of an early seam pass that was open, but Will Grier missed the throw. His only meaningful action came on a quick pass into the flat.