Looking at just the team statistics for the day, you would imagine that the New Orleans Saints dominated the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Unfortunately for Saints fans, those numbers are terribly misleading. In a game where New Orleans had the chance to go 4-0 to close out the season and win 5 of their last 7 games, they come up with a lackluster offensive performance and loss.
The nature of this loss puts a grinding halt on the good momentum the team had been building in the closing stretch of the year. While the defense looked beyond good yet again, the offense quickly went flat and that leads to a disappointing and downright confusing end to the 2022 season in the Big Easy. Here are our biggest takeaways from Sunday’s loss.
The Saints should have won this game
The Panthers clearly did not have it in their gameplan to come out and throw the ball against the Saints, and the New Orleans offense did not take advantage of that. Carolina attempted just 15 passes and totaled just 32 net passing yards for the day. 32. Yeah, they added 171 net rushing yards, but the Saints offense should have been able to put this one out of reach without much fuss. The Panthers have a banged up secondary and did not play their defense’s best player in edge rusher Brian Burns. Several miscommunications between quarterback Andy Dalton and his receivers led to wasted plays and three runs on 2nd and 10 yielded just 5 total yards.
The Saints defense did its job as a whole. Allowing just a 33.3% completion percentage and coming down with two interceptions plummeted Panthers passer Sam Darnold to a brutal 2.8 NFL passer rating. By all accounts, New Orleans should be 8-9 on the season with a comfortable win. So what happened? The Saints offense just could not find a way to do enough to create distance and allowed the Panthers to hang around in a game they had no business being in.
This Saints loss creates uncertainty for the offseason
After missing the playoffs now two years in a row, it is pretty obvious that changes will be made this offseason. In what already looked to be a busy one to begin with, the Saints could not hold on to the positive momentum they wanted to move forward having earned. So what will that mean as they look to evaluate their roster and staff?
Further complicating is “Sean Payton watch.” The team’s former head coach is starting to meet with other teams (though interviews cannot be held until January 17) and that is sure to be a situation the team will have to dedicate lots of attention toward. Should Payton land a deal with a new team and New Orleans gain draft picks in return for his rights, that would aid and boost the Saints’ possibilities when it comes to retooling for 2023. But will that be the biggest coaching move to take place for the franchise?
Disappointed fans will be eagerly awaiting the fate of Allen, the team’s current head coach. While I personally do not see this loss as anything that will shake the organizations confidence in him, changes on the staff around him could be warranted. It is sure to be an eventful and perhaps surprising offseason from that perspective. Add in the potential roster moves that could be on the way, and the Saints offseason becomes must-watch.
After their opening drive, the Saints offense could not finish drives
Two missed field goals, a fumble in opposing territory and another game of just 4 third down conversions. No team is going to win games when their offense can not reliably move the ball and finish drives. Their 31% third down conversion rate is the eighth time this season the Saints have no converted at least 40% of their attempts. Situationally, this team has struggled consistently and the final game of the year is a loud reminder of who the Saints have been throughout the year on offense.
Speaking of situational football, New Orleans did not have a single red zone possession on Sunday. They were forced to punt the away on four straight possessions to open the second half. If there is an area that is in glaring need of attention this offseason, it is without a doubt the offense.
Saints terrible injury luck continues to the final week
Saints rookie left tackle Trevor Penning saw his first start on Sunday. What should have been an exciting day for the young lineman quickly took a turn in the third quarter when he left with injury. Penning was on the ground tending to what looked to be his right foot. A short-lived starting debut for the left tackle. Fortunately, this injury was not sustained on the same foot as the hyperextended toe injury that kept him out of the majority of the season, which was on his left foot.
Head coach Dennis Allen told Saints media after the game that it was too early to fully evaluate Penning’s day when he was able to be on the field. But did say that he saw things that he liked including the tackles’ relentlessness in the run game. Hopefully the injury will be one that he can work through in time to get right for training camp ahead of the 2023 season where he undoubtedly will be tasked to be the starting left tackle once healthy.
Chris Olave tops 1,000 yards receiving
Fellow rookie Chris Olave was again the Saints’ top wide receiver on the day with 60 receiving yards and a touchdown catch and run. That touchdown catch put Olave over 1,000 receiving yards on the season. He is now only the third rookie wideout to hit that mark along with Saints legend Marques Colston and headliner Michael Thomas.
Olave also passed Colston to be second on the list for most receiving yards in a rookie season in franchise history with 1,042. Olave has been a breath of fresh air for New Orleans despite a pair of costly fumbles in his campaign. But those should not take away from the talent he has put on display his first year. Allen says that Olave has some major strides he can continue to make, and that they expect to see those over the offseason so that he can take the next step in his development.
DE Marcus Davenport's Saints tenure may have come to an end with an ejection
While it will not be because of the ejection, the Saints edge defender may have seen his final moments in New Orleans. After finishing his contract season with just one half sack, it is hard to imagine the Saints being willing to break the bank at a premium position to bring him back. So unless Davenport does not get a big offer elsewhere, if he is back next season, it should not be for more than a prove it deal. Especially when you also consider the impressive development of fellow defensive end Carl Granderson.
The former undrafted free agent outperformed the former first-round draft pick by piling on 5.5 sacks on the season and several impact plays in the run game as well. Davenport has not seen many opportunities throughout the closing weeks of the season. His snap totals have dropped to the point in which played only 17 snaps last week in Philadelphia and amassed just 12 before he was disqualified against the Panthers. A sour note that could potentially be a final moment in New Orleans.
This game summarized the Saints season perfectly
“Seemed to depict this Saints season entirely,” Jordan said when asked to sum up the season. “Chances to score, we didn’t. Chances to make a big play. Couple of tackles missed. Ebbs and flows, the team never gives up fighting but . . . When you let a team last until the end of the fourth quarter and end up getting beat in the fourth, how many games have we seen that this year?”
Jordan was spot on with his summation of this game and this year. The franchise’s all-time sack leader was understandably disappointed following the loss, closing out the season on a low note. When asked about the message to his teammates after this one he said, “Let this loss burn.” Encouraging his group to feel this loss all off season, be upset by it, and allow it to motivate their work and preparation for 2023.
The second half has been a struggle for the Saints
Despite having won 3 of their final 4 games the season, the Saints offense has been outscored 21 to 35 in the second half by their opponents. That does not include cornerback Marshon Lattimore’s pick-six against the Philadelphia Eagles last week. While things have mostly gone well for them in the first half, the third and fourth quarters have continuously been a struggle for Dalton and the offensive unit. During their previous three games, they have been able to do enough to win despite those challenges, but the magic could only go so far.