Cam Jordan, Saints Defense Crush Carolina In Week 17 Battle
Cam Jordan and the New Orleans Saints defense smothered the Carolina Panthers in their 18-10 victory in week 17.
With the win, New Orleans improved to 8-8 overall. The Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers each also won this week to stay in front of the Saints in the playoff standings at 9-7 each, but there is one week left in the 2021-22 regular season. By winning, the Saints kept their slim playoff hopes alive.
The Saints defense took time to start dominating the game, and the Panthers offense led by quarterback Sam Darnold took advantage of that early on. Darnold completed his first four passing attempts for 52 yards to get the Panthers into the red zone. However, Carolina abandoned the passing attack at the end of the drive and settled for a 32-yard field goal to start the game.
New Orleans wanted to get the ball to star running back Alvin Kamara in space early, and they did that with their passing attack on the opening possession. Kamara was the featured player, catching three passes for 50 yards on the first drive. It was enough to set up the game-tying field goal, which kicker Brett Maher hit from 41 yards out.
Carolina responded by taking six minutes off the clock during a 10-play, 81-yard touchdown drive. The Saints defense looked slow in the first quarter, but they started to pick it up after the Panthers took a 10-3 lead.
New Orleans went three-and-out on offense, but defensive back PJ Williams sacked Darnold on the third play of the Panthers next drive, forcing a fumble that defensive end Marcus Davenport recovered at the Carolina 13.
Starting quarterback Taysom Hill and the offense failed to take advantage of the excellent field position, but Maher kicked a 27-yard field goal to make it 10-6.
On the third play of the next Panthers possession, defensive end Cam Jordan came up with his second sack to force a three-and-out. It was Jordan's 10th sack of the season and marked his sixth season in the black and gold with double-digit sacks. It tied him with Rickey Jackson for the most seasons with 10+ sacks in Saints history, but he wasn't done in this game.
Hill completed a beautiful deep ball to wide receiver Marquez Callaway for a big 30-yard gain. However, he was sacked on third down near midfield and the Saints punted.
After the Panthers punted again, the Saints were put in an awkward situation where their possession started at the four with less than two minutes remaining. After two running plays net the team -1 yards, the Panthers used a timeout to attempt to get the ball back and steal points before halftime. However, on third-and-11, Hill completed a 28-yard pass to Callaway and then hit Lil'Jordan Humphrey for an 18-yard chunk play to midfield.
Two more quick completions and a spike with two seconds left set up a 41-yard field goal which Maher nailed to send the Saints into halftime with a one-point deficit. It was a nice drive by Hill and the offense to add points before the break.
New Orleans opened the second half by gaining 47 yards in eight plays, efficiently marching down the field to the Carolina 28. However, after a two-yard rush and incompletion set up third-and-eight, Hill was called for an intentional grounding which lost 13 yards. Instead of attempting a 56-yard field goal that would have given the Saints the lead, coach Payton decided to trust his defense and punt the ball from Carolina's 39.
His defense rewarded him for his trust by forcing their third straight punt after a quick three-and-out. However, two rushes by Kamara only gained four yards and Hill's incompletion on third down forced the Saints to punt right back from Carolina's 43.
Former Ragin' Cajun defensive lineman Christian Ringo started the next possession with a tackle for loss. Two plays later, a five-yard loss forced another three-and-out from the the Panthers offense.
After starting the game with 142 yards on 22 plays through the first two possessions, Carolina was absolutely smothered by the Saints defense. They had -8 yards in 16 plays over their next five drives.
Hill ran for 20 yards in two plays to get New Orleans into the red zone. On third down, an incompletion brought Maher back out for a 33-yard field goal. He hit it to give the Saints their first lead of the game at 12-10 late in the third quarter.
For the first time since the first quarter, Carolina started moving the ball on the Saints defense. Gaining 43 yards through the air, the Panthers marched to a first down at the Saints 31. They only managed two yards over the next three plays, setting up a 47-yard field goal attempt. The kick missed wide right and the Saints maintained their lead at the start of the fourth quarter.
Kamara finally had his first big run of the day, bursting through the defense for 30 yards deep into Carolina territory. Three plays later, Hill connected with Kamara for a 12-yard touchdown pass to give the Saints an 18-10 lead. Maher's extra-point hit the upright and missed, so the lead stayed at one possession instead of two with less than eight minutes remaining.
Each team traded three-and-outs thanks to drive-ruining sacks. Jordan and linebacker Kwon Alexander got Darnold in the backfield once again.
Carolina started their last possession of the game at their own 23 down eight points with four minutes left.
This drive was strange. The Panthers converted two third downs but drained a lot of the clock they had left in the process. CJ Gardner-Johnson sacked Darnold for a loss of nine yards. A penalty on third-and-19 gave Carolina a first-and-10, but Jordan came up with his third sack of the day for a 10-yard loss. Finally, on the 10th play of a drive that effectively went nowhere, Gardner-Johnson picked off a pass from Darnold to seal the victory.
Offensively, New Orleans wasn't impressive at all in this game, but, once again, the defense got it done for them. Carolina has gone 2-11 since starting out the season 3-0.
Up next, the Saints play on the road against the Atlanta Falcons on January 9 at 12:00 p.m. The Falcons were eliminated from playoff contention with their 29-15 loss to Buffalo this week. Atlanta is 7-9 this season.