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Barry Hirstius

Biggest Saints “Winners and Losers” in 31-19 Win Over the Jets

The New Orleans Saints managed to survive a scare from a scrappy New York Jets team yesterday to win their 10th game of the season, and inched ever so close to clinching a spot in the NFL Playoffs with only 2 games remaining in the 2017 regular season.

The (10-4) Saints can clinch a spot in the Playoffs by winning at least 1 of their 2 remaining games, and can win the NFC South Division Championship if they win both.

The Saints will next host the Atlanta Falcons at the Superdome this upcoming Sunday on Christmas Eve in the long-anticipated "rematch" from their controversial loss at Atlanta 2 weeks ago; before closing out the regular season at Tampa, Florida against the division rival Buccaneers.

With that in mind, here's a quick look a yesterday's biggest Saints "winners and losers" in their harrowing 31-19 win over the New York Jets.

Let's have a look at the losers first.....

 

BIGGEST LOSERS

 

3. THE SAINTS 3rd DOWN OFFENSE

Photo courtesy of Michael DeMocker, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

As New Orleans Advocate beat writer / analyst Nick Underhill noted a few days ago: the Saints have a HUGE problem on their hands with converting on 3rd-downs, and yesterday it got even worse.

Coming into yesterday's game, the Saints offense had only converted on 38.4 percent of its third-down attempts, and Underhill said that the real issue exists in what should be considered manageable (5 yards to go or less) third-down situations, which makes the Saints' struggles all the more peculiar: An offense that's been one of the NFL's best third-down teams over the past decade is suddenly pedestrian.

Yesterday, to say that they were "pedestrian" is far too kind.

They were ABHORRENT.

New Orleans only managed to convert on 3 out of 10 of its 3rd-down conversion attempts (30%) against the Jets, and they clearly struggled at times to gain short yardage and "move the sticks" when normally in the past, it hasn't been an issue.

Now clearly, not having either offensive guard in the line-up yesterday (starting left guard Andrus Peat dressed out but only appeared briefly as a tackle eligible receiver on one snap because of a lingering injury; and right guard Larry Warford sustained a concussion early in the 1st quarter) had a lot to do with it, but this was also an issue BEFORE the injuries to those players.

And undoubtedly, the Saints' obvious lack of a receiving threat this year at the tight end position is something that will have to be addressed IMMEDIATELY in the off-season.

But.........

If the Saints have ANY HOPE of winning in the NFL Playoffs???

They'd better get this issue fixed and DAMN QUICK.

 

2. KENNY VACCARO, SAFETY

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

It's been an up-and-season for Vaccaro in 2017, and while his performance yesterday wasn't necessarily 'horrible' by any means  it wasn't exactly one of his better days, either.

Vaccaro's pass interference penalty late in the 4th quarter kept a Jets drive alive which eventually led to a TD; that allowed New York to have a chance to pull off an upset of the Saints until the very end of the game.

In his post-game press conference afterwards, Saints head coach Sean Payton was undoubtedly referring to Vaccaro in particular when he said the defense needs to work on the penalties and quipped: "Every week, same guys."

 

1. BRANDON COLEMAN, WIDE RECEIVER

Photo courtesy of The New York Daily News

Saints 3rd year WR Brandon Coleman has quietly been having himself a solid if not spectacular season, but yesterday was the type of game that the 6-foot-6, 25 year old would like to forget, since it's the type of performance in the NFL that gets players benched and even cut in the most extreme occurrences since it could directly lead to a critical loss for the team.

Coleman fumbled the ball twice after making receptions on back-to-back Saints drives in the 3rd quarter; both times when the Saints appeared headed for a TD deep inside Jets territory. Amazingly, they are the only 2 times he's even fumbled in his NFL career, but they couldn't have come at a worse time.

Jets rookie safety and former LSU star Jamal Adams was credited with forcing the first fumble, and cornerback Buster Skrine forced the second one; though Coleman told reporters after the game that he wasn't sure if either Jets defender had really made a great play to knock the ball out of his hands.

To his credit, Coleman accepted full responsibility for his mistakes and was ready to move forward, but we all know what's coming first (and he's ALREADY there:) a trip to the famous "dog house" of head coach Sean Payton.

In the 4th quarter as the Saints were driving for the score that eventually was the TD that put them ahead for good, Coleman was seen lobbying to Payton for a chance to go back in the game, after he had been benched for the two fumbles.

Payton turned to Coleman and shook his head "no" twice at him, before turning back around to look at the next play.

Welcome to the "dog house".

 

BIGGEST WINNERS

 

5. MARSHON LATTIMORE, CORNERBACK

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

After a great performance in the disappointing loss at Atlanta last week, yesterday the Saints Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate was back at it again.

Lattimore absolutely BLANKETED Jets top WR Robby Anderson on a back-shoulder "fade" route in the end zone on a crucial 3rd down play at the end of the 1st half, and broke up the play with a perfectly timed knockdown of the ball. Lattimore’s pass breakup was arguably the most important play of the game, as the Jets were attempting to tie the score at halftime and steal the momentum since they received the 2nd half kickoff.

Lattimore finished the day with a 26.6 coverage rating by Pro Football Focus, which was one of their highest ratings for any NFL cornerback this season.

Lattimore finished the day with 4 receptions allowed for only 43 yards (to Anderson), along with the PBU and also the game-clinching interception (his 4th of the season) on the final play of the contest.

 

4. ALVIN KAMARA, RUNNING BACK

Photo courtesy of Michael DeMocker, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Kamara returned to line-up after missing most of the Atlanta game with a concussion, and picked up right where he left off.

The rookie sensation ran for 44 yards on 12 carries and added 45 yards and a touchdown on six catches during Sunday's 31-19 win. It was Kamara's seventh game with a touchdown in his last eight contests. 

His performance actually could have even been more impressive were it not for a 3rd quarter play where he got behind the Jets secondary on a deep route down the sideline, but just missed hauling in the pass off of his fingertips, which would have likely resulted in a "highlight reel" 70-plus yard TD reception.

Nevertheless, Kamara's performance should have been enough to keep him in the slight lead in the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year race, ahead of Kansas City rookie RB Kareem Hunt.

 

3. MARK INGRAM, RUNNING BACK

Photo courtesy of Michael DeMocker, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Ingram had 2 of the biggest "highlight reel" plays of the game yesterday, and spaced them apart at the very beginning of the game, and the very end of it.

His 54-yard reception on the team's opening drive should have been a 64-yard touchdown, but the Saints couldn't challenge the play because the referee had already blown the whistle and the play dead at the 10-yard line.

One instant replay appeared to show that Ingram scored on the play, while another revealed in fact that his heel had barely touched the sideline boundary but was obscured on that angle from the other replay.

Ingram then "iced" the game for the Saints with exactly 1 minute remaining and the Saints clinging to a 24-19 lead while trying to run the clock out, when he took a hand off from Brees and rumbled 50 yards for a TD and the eventual winning 31-19 margin.

On the day, he totaled 151 yards from scrimmage — running for 74 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries and added 77 yards on five catches.

With two regular-season games remaining, Ingram now has tallied 1,045 yards and 11 touchdowns on 204 rushing attempts. Last season, Ingram had 1,043 yards and 6 touchdowns on 205 carries.

Ingram also joins Deuce McAllister, George Rogers and Ricky Williams as the only RB's in Saints history with at least two or more 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

 

2. CAM JORDAN, DEFENSIVE END

Photo courtesy of Michael DeMocker, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Cam Jordan's "monster" 2017 season continued yesterday, and it was an absolute horror movie from the Jets' perspective by all accounts.

Jordan had 5 you read that right: he had FIVE  passes defensed / deflected in the game, an UNBELIEVABLE stat for an NFL defensive lineman, by any standard.

Besides the 5 pass deflections, Jordan added a tackle and one QB "hit". He didn't record any sacks amazingly, but he definitely made life uncomfortable for Jets QB Bryce Petty.

"I think his disruption has been pretty consistent all year, and that's been very important for us," Saints head coach Sean Payton said to reporters afterwards.

That's an understatement.

Jordan's first career "triple-double" now includes 10.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 11 passes defensed. As of last week, no other player with 10-plus sacks in the NFL had more than four passes defensed.

 

1. MICHAEL THOMAS, WIDE RECEIVER

Photo courtesy of United Press International

Let's just lay it out there: the Saints DID NOT play one of their better games as a team yesterday, and they allowed a scrappy New York Jets team to take them to the brink of an "upset".

And it was thanks to one Saints player in particular 2nd year wide receiver Michael Thomas — who single-handedly took matters into his own hands in the 4th quarter, that was the difference-maker in this contest for New Orleans.

Thomas finished with nine catches on 11 targets for 93 yards and a 4-yard TD in the 4th quarter, and actually had 2 other receiving TD's called back when both were overturned on instant replay.

But it was his 4 catches for 50 yards on the Saints' key drive halfway through the 4th-quarter that ultimately made the difference between New Orleans winning and possibly getting "upset" by the Jets, and his touchdown gave the Saints a 24-13 lead with 7:39 remaining. 

The Jets would still make it close thanks to Vaccaro's pass interference penalty, on the ensuing drive.

Thomas' performance gave him over 1,000 yards receiving on the year and now back-to-back times in his first 2 NFL seasons; and through 14 games, he has 94 catches for 1,085 yards with 5 TD's.

He also became just the 2nd player in NFL history with 90-plus catches in each of his first two seasons, joining former LSU star and Baton Rouge native Odell Beckham Jr. on that rarified list..............

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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