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Forecast: Saints will go as far as dominating defense can take them

Except for a missed field goal in the second half, Carolina looked as helpless as an offense could look.

NEW ORLEANS — Not only did I watch the New Orleans Saints beat the Carolina Panthers 18-10 Sunday, but for most of the afternoon I felt exactly like them – trying to survive by any means necessary. My wife got Covid or Omicron or whatever the latest flavor of the pandemic is these days, and I, like the New Orleans Saints, was just trying to survive. Whatever it took to care for my wife and make sure a 6-year-old boy with a broken arm didn't create more mayhem, I was doing it.

Sean Payton may have had trouble creating any offense at all with a patched together offensive line and receiving corps, who unlike my lovely wife, seemed unable to catch anything, but I was trying to care for a sick spouse, play Godzilla monopoly so my son wouldn't bother his mom, AND watch the Saints game.

All I'm saying is, sometimes in 2021 (yes, I know it’s 2022, but it’s the 21 NFL season), surviving can be beautiful in its own way. The Saints and I both managed to survive beautifully Sunday. My wife is going to be fine, and the Saints head into Week 18 with playoff hopes very much alive.

The Saints after 17 weeks know exactly who they are – a dominant defense with a suddenly unblockable pass rush and an offense whose number one, two, and three objectives is to not lose the game. In the immortal words of Ric Flair, “You don't have to like it, but you better learn to love it. Because it's the best thing going.” If Sean Payton had a better offense don't you think he'd be using it in a must win game? At times the Saints offense was so conservative it made the early 1990's Jim Mora offenses look positively daring.

Sean Payton knows the Saints offense as currently constituted isn't winning games, so it's best to just try to make a couple nice plays and let the defense do the rest. Sean Payton has found a new love affair with running the ball and explained why he stayed committed to running the ball even as it felt like the Saints were smashing their heads into brick wall.

“I still think that ability to be two-dimensional as opposed to one-dimensional is important, especially if you pay attention to the game we were just playing.”

Sean Payton wasn't about to start throwing the ball on a bunch of first downs and put the game in Taysom Hill's hands, even if Carolina was daring him to do so. Sean Payton took exactly one huge risk on offense the entire game. The Saints faced a 3rd down and 11 yards to go with 1:14 to go before halftime and Payton let Taysom throw a deep ball to Marquez Callaway. The Saints converted and it led to a field goal to make the score 10-9. If Taysom throws an incompletion, or worse turns the ball over, Carolina may have been in position to bury the 2021 Saints for good, but Taysom and Callaway made the biggest play of the game.

Taysom Hill was pretty good Sunday. He threw for 222 yards, ran for 45 more, and only had 1 really bad decision that the Panthers dropped any way. If Hill got a little more help from Marquez Callaway, he'd have had his best game of the year.

The offense might have been at maximum efficiency Sunday. No turnovers, a couple of Alvin Kamara plays and a score, a couple of Callaway catches, and Taysom protecting the ball. Survival.

While the offense's goal is surviving, the defense's goal is the complete and total destruction of other teams. The Panthers had 178 total yards of offense or more brutally; 36 yards after their first 2 drives of the game. THIRTY SIX YARDS. I wanted to put up the Panthers second half drive chart, but my WWL editors told me this is a family website and obscene content isn't allowed.

Cam Jordan since his return from COVID has 6.5 sacks and is unblockable. The Saints sacked Sam Darnold 7 times, and except for a missed field goal in the second half, Carolina looked as helpless as an offense could look. The Panthers looked so bad on offense, the Saints missing the extra point after they scored to go up 18-10 didn't feel like the absolute calamity it should have. The Saints have the kind of pass rush from their defensive line that is Super Bowl winning quality. It'd be nice to have even an average offense to go along with it, but injuries denied us of that chance.

What the Saints do have is a pretty decent shot at making the playoffs provided they can avoid getting swept by our most hated of teams, the Atlanta Falcons, and they can get some help from the Los Angeles Rams against the San Francisco 49ers. Look at the bright side, we have to root for one of the Saints old NFC West teams we hated against another old NFC West rival WE HATED EVEN MORE!

This Saints team is a mess. They are injured to the point it's beyond comedy, they have no dependable quarterback or receivers, and yet they will give us 17 games of football that matters and with one more win and finally some good fortune, maybe just a little bit more.

Welcome to the biggest Atlanta Falcons Hate Week of our entire lives. The 2021 Saints are ending with a bang.

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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