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Forecast: Saints bury helpless Broncos in a bizarre game

How do we judge and evaluate what happened in this game on either side of the ball under the most bizarre of circumstances?

NEW ORLEANS — On Saturday I was at The National Museum of Funeral History when I got the alert on my phone that the Denver Broncos would be without all their quarterbacks Sunday against the New Orleans Saints because of confirmed positive COVID tests.

I went from learning about the history of funerals on Saturday to watching a football funeral on Sunday as the Saints buried the helpless Broncos 31-3 in a game that felt over before the Saints even scored.

The Saints haven't had the privilege of facing a team with such a terrible quarterback since a guy named Sean Payton was under center for the Chicago Bears during the 1987 NFL players strike when replacement players were used. 

I'll say this for Sean — he completed 3 passes against the Saints in that 1987 game. Denver quarterback Kendell Hinton only completed 1 pass Sunday against the Saints.

Of course, the Saints would be involved in the craziest, most COVID-affected football game of the NFL season so far. The stunning thing is it was the opponent playing a receiver at quarterback and not the Saints lining up Alvin Kamara in the wildcat or single wing in the most hopeless football endeavor since the 2012 Saints attempted to play competent defense.

Part of me didn't care that Denver was a no-win situation before kickoff, as I've watched the NFL deliver body blows to our Saints fandom with Bounty Gate and told us to get over the 'No Call' in the 2018 NFC Championship 5 minutes after it happened. 

Another part of me felt bad for the Broncos' Hinton. At one point, the Saints went up 14-0, and I knew the game was over. That poor guy couldn't even handoff without bumping into guys, and every pass he threw felt like he was handing out early Christmas gifts to the Saints secondary. The Saints had 2 interceptions but should have had 4. 

The Saints could have had 4 interceptions while allowing only 1 completion on defense! That record would've stood for all eternity.

How do we judge and evaluate what happened in this game on either side of the ball under the most bizarre of circumstances?

Taysom Hill's passing stats were awful, 9 of 16 for 78 yards, and he looked hesitant and petrified at even the thought of putting the ball at risk, but there was good reason for that once Sean Payton talked after the game. Payton admitted once the Saints learned Denver would have no quarterbacks, the entire plan changed.

“I thought Taysom played well, but he played an entirely different type of game. That had a lot to do with me, relative to how we wanted to play this game," Payton said. "I was in his ear 24/7 just about being smart with the football. There are a few ways to lose a game like that, and we weren’t interested in one of those. Taysom played this thing just how I wanted him to play it, and it doesn’t have to be aesthetically pleasing to be effective.”

Payton said he believed the Broncos wouldn't be able to score if the game lasted until Christmas day. The Broncos never got to as deep as inside the Saints' 30-yard-line. So no turnovers were jobs 1, 2, and 3. 

There's no sense in debating after every Taysom start if he is the Saints quarterback of the future because the future doesn't matter right now. The Saints are 9-2 and trying to secure the #1 seed and bye in the NFC playoffs. The only question that matters is "Can Taysom hold things down and win 2 more games before Drew Brees gets back?"

Hill has shown he can look pretty good against a terrible defense, like Atlanta's, and low-key bad against a mediocre one, like Denver's. The good news is next week it's back to facing a terrible defense in a rematch with the Falcons.

Taysom's level of play was mostly irrelevant anyway because the Saints offense was too busy running the ball down the Broncos' throats to have to depend on passing the ball. 

The Saints ran the ball 44 times for 229 yards. Latavius Murray did the most damage with 24 carries for 124 yards and 2 scores. Murray has been so solid and dependable he's made us forget how much we loved Mark Ingram.

The Saints just ran for over 200 yards on the road starting their backup quarterback without 2 starters on the offensive line — Terron Armstead and Andrus Peat. How is that even possible?

The Saints defense put the Broncos on the torture rack and never relented for 60 minutes. The level of difficulty wasn't impressive, but the fact all three of the Saints defensive stars are ascending as we hit December is.

Cam Jordan followed his 3 sack masterpiece against the Falcons with another sack and consistent pressure against Denver. Demario Davis is back to his 2019 self as well. The NFL season is long and both are over 30 and being healthy and playing well late in the season is what matters most.

Marshon Lattimore returned after the missing the Falcons game, Denver tested him one time, and then after a near Lattimore interception, decided to not throw at him the rest of the afternoon.

As we head to December the Saints are the best team in the NFC. The only bad news for the Saints is the team directly in their rear-view mirror, the Green Bay Packers, only face one difficult game the rest of the season and the Packers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Saints. We might see a repeat of 2019 where 13-3 again fails to deliver the Saints a bye in the playoffs.

That is a worry for another day.

The Saints have won 8 straight and are on the verge of winning their fourth straight NFC South crown. The Saints are going to rule the NFC South for an entire presidential administration. If that doesn't make you smile I don't know why you invest your time in football.

Ralph Malbrough is a contributing writer and Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at saintshappyhour@gmail.com, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at @SaintsForecast or download the Saints Happy Hour Podcast.

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