The 8-3 record heading into Sunday proved 2017 New Orleans Saints were good, Alvin Kamara being a wizard with magical powers proved they were fun, but beating the Carolina Panthers proved they are tough.
The Saints beat the Carolina Panthers 31-21 without a starting cornerback, starting safety, and starting left tackle.
They won the biggest game of 2017 so far and took control of the NFC South short-handed and for most of the second half weren't really threatened.
In the NFL, being able to not be sunk as the injuries mount is pretty much all December is about. No one really cares about injuries.
It reminds me of the line from the movie 'Goodfellas' "Pay me."
"Business is bad? Pay me."
"Got hit by lightning? Pay me"
The mob never accepts any excuse for not getting paid, just like the NFL doesn't care about a team's injury problems
"Star rookie corner out? So what? Find a way"
"Left tackle out and safety out? So what? Find a way."
The Saints found a way against Carolina and Cam Newton. The defense limited the Panthers to 279 yards on offense. Ken Crawley's return at corner was obviously a huge lift but being without Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams was no small thing.
After Carolina scored to tie game at 7, the Panther offense consisted of Newton hitting Christian McCaffrey on a busted Saints coverage and a 31-yard scramble late to make the score closer. The rest of the day defensive coordinator Dennis Allen's plan was executed almost flawlessly.
Carolina could only muster 81 yards rushing from anyone not named Cam Newton, and the secondary had receivers covered well as Newton had ample time to throw. The Saints pass rush, while it did get to Newton for two sacks, seemed very focused on not letting Cam break containment and scramble or hit a receiver for a huge play.
Considering the enormity of the game, quality of opponent, and guys the Saints were without, it's probably their best defensive performance of 2017.
While the defense was frustrating Cam Newton, the offense throttled up the 'Give the ball to Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara until other team submits' plan. It worked.
At this point what's left to say about Kamara? He played a dude like he was a bull fighter and it's only like his sixth-most insane play of the season. Mark Ingram sprung a 72-yard run and continues to have the best season of his Saints career.
Drew Brees was efficient and except for one poor throw, helped the offense be much more efficient on third down (6 of 15). Brees finished with 269 yards and a quiet 106 quarterback rating.
The Saints did this without left tackle Terron Armstead. As fans I think we forget and take for granted how valuable Andrus Peat is. I got news for you, most NFL teams don't slide their left guard to tackle against the second best defense in NFL and roll right along. That trick is incredibly valuable.
Special teams even got in on the fun with excellent coverage, forced a fumble, and bounced on Panthers punter miscue.
I'm not sure what to make of Sean Payton playing new third-string quarterback Taysom
Hill on special team but I approve cause it's fun. Hill looks like quarterback Hulk Smash or something. Whatever trick play Payton has cooked up for him is going to be AMAZING.
So the Saints are 9-3 and can accomplish two great things Thursday night; put the NFC South in a sleeper hold and almost completely destroy the Atlanta Falcons' playoff chances. 2017 is special and we haven't even gotten to the best parts yet.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at Saintshappyhour@gmail.com, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.