NEW ORLEANS — With the biggest game of the season coming up Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, here are the 4 biggest takeaways after the Thanksgiving Day win over Atlanta.
Fourth is the Swiss Army Knife, Taysom Hill was electric Thursday night. Because Drew Brees is back, Sean Payton can unleash number 7. In Atlanta, Hill caught two passes, one for a touchdown and he ran twice, once for a score and he blocked a punt. And, afterward, Sean Payton said he should probably be getting him the ball even more.
Third are the maddening mistakes that continue. Drew Brees keeps saying that the Saints haven’t played their best game yet and that was definitely true in Atlanta. The Saints had four dropped passes – two from Jared Cook, one of which was in the end zone. Brees was excellent and he didn’t get much help. There were two needless pass interference calls against Eli Apple, both of which I thought were correctly called. And, the onsides kick ‘hands team’ was an unorganized mess. Sean Payton called it “embarrassing.” Now the positive is that the Saints keep winning through their own sloppiness.
Second, this game was dominated by the Saints defensive line. They were unbelievably good. Three weeks ago, in the first game against the Falcons, the Saints had one sack and five quarterback hits. Thursday night they had 9 sacks and 13 quarterback hits. The Saints successfully rotated eight guys, of course, led by Cam Jordan who had another spectacular game. Jordan had 4 sacks, 4 and a half tackles for loss, 4 quarterback hits and 6 tackles. He was everywhere. But also having big games were: Marcus Davenport, with 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, 2 quarterback hits and 4 tackles. Sheldon Rankins and Trey Hendrickson added a sack each and Shy Tuttle got that ridiculous interception. Eight of these guys played well. The point is that these guys were a question mark in August. They are a huge strength entering December.
And, number one, I don’t think Saints fans under 40 appreciate this enough. Sean Payton won his 6th division championship Thursday night. Now, I’m old enough to have gone to Saints games under ever coach. I watched Tom Fears win zero division titles. Then J.D. Roberts, then John North, then Hank Stram, then Dick Nolan, then Bum Phillips. Jim Mora won one in 1991. Then Mike Ditka followed as a disaster and then Jim Haslett won one. So, in their first 39 years, the Saints had two division titles.
Then Sean Payton happened. In his 14 years here, he has six. He has changed how everyone views the Saints to the point where after the game, the team wore shirts that said, “The South is not Enough.” That means that a division title is not enough. For those of us who grew up remembering the nine coaches who came before Payton. That is literally amazing.