The New Orleans Saints overcame a sluggish start to their road game against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, pulling away in the second half for a 38-28 victory. The win brought the Saints record to 12-3 and in a prime position for a first round postseason bye. New Orleans must still win their regular season finale at Carolina and hope for some help, but showed great resilience during this win. Here are a few of the major storylines from the New Orleans victory.
1. The Return of Alvin Kamara
Kamara has always been a major part of his team’s offensive game plan. What’s been missing are the big plays that were a big part of his first two seasons. On the third play of the second half, Kamara burst through a hole over the left side for a 40-yard touchdown. The scoring play gave New Orleans their first lead of the game. This was Kamara’s first-time entering the endzone since Week 3. Later, he would add another touchdown run on the next drive and show off his versatility that places fear in defenses throughout the league. Kamara was the game’s leading rusher with 80 yards on 11 carries, and added 30 yards on six receptions. Kamara became the third player in NFL history to have at least 500 yards both rushing and receiving in his first three seasons. His game-breaking ability will be vital for an extended playoff run for New Orleans.
2. Defensive Depth
The Saints came into this game without defensive starters DT Sheldon Rankins, DE Marcus Davenport, LB Kiko Alonso, and SS Vonn Bell. CB Eli Apple left during the contest with what could be a serious ankle injury; also, defensive backs Marcus Williams and P.J. Williams were both nicked up during the game. The Saints allowed 143 yards and two long touchdown plays to the Titans during the opening quarter. The defense stiffened for a middle of the game, but gave up late two touchdowns in the third and fourth quarter respectively.
The Saints sacked Tennessee QB Ryan Tannehill five times, with two more being nullified by penalties. The banged up secondary would get outstanding coverage efforts from Marshon Lattimore and a few complimentary players who made big plays in key situations. Reserve CB Patrick Robinson played some significant defensive snaps and made some huge plays down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Rookie DB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was all over the field once again, showing that he has become a big part of the New Orleans defensive success.
The defense could greatly benefit from the rest by earning a first-round bye in the playoffs. The Saints continue to flex the muscle of its defensive depth almost weekly, with several players making big plays in critical situations.
3. These Special Teams are Special
The Saints own arguably the best special teams squads in the league. The unit has already been the difference between a win or a loss in several games this year and was a major factor in this one. Pro Bowl kicker Wil Lutz is the most reliable in the league, while punter Thomas Morstead flipped the field position advantage in favor of the Saints. One of the biggest differences in this game though was undrafted rookie Pro Bowler Deonte Harris, who has become the most-feared kick returner in the league. Harris had a 12-Yd punt return that changed momentum and consistency set the Saints up near midfield with his spectacular kickoff returns. He averaged 37.5 yards on four returns, including two of of over 40 yards.
Consider this about the Saints. The offense is lethal and is rugged on defense. The special teams are dynamic and have game-changers. This is something that is often the difference-maker in a close game(s).
4. Record Breaker II
Last week it was New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees setting a new NFL record for career touchdown passes, along with a new league standard for completion percentage in a single game. This week it was Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas that took center stage. The fourth year wideout came into the game needing 10 receptions to tie Marvin Harrison’s NFL record for catches in a season. Thomas tied that record with a 20 yard pass from Taysom Hill mid-way through the 4th quarter, then would break it on the following drive.
Michael Thomas became the new NFL record holder for receptions in a season on a precisely run route that gave him a 14-yard gain and put his team in position to clinch the game. He added to the record moments later by catching a short touchdown strike from Drew Brees to ice the victory. Thomas had 12 receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown for the game, bringing his league leading total to 145 catches for 1,688 yards. He now has 5,475 career receiving yards, surpassing the NFL record for receiving yardage in a player’s first four seasons previously held by Hall of Famer Randy Moss. Congratulations to Michael Thomas, one of the NFL greats.