NFL Wire News

Saints slow to grasp playoff elimination

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METAIRIE, La. — As bad as this season has been, the New Orleans Saints had a chance to wrap up a playoff berth and a home game for the postseason with a win Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Saints (6-9) needed to beat the Falcons and have the Carolina Panthers lose to the Cleveland Browns to capture the NFC South title. But just as the listless Saints were being closed out by the Falcons, 30-14, the Panthers defeated the Browns to eliminate New Orleans from playoff contention.

Just like that, it was over as players left the Mercedes-Benz Superdome field while their fans quickly exited the building. However, many of the players did not know their fate until reporters told them after the team’s fifth consecutive loss at home.

The Saints, who had a chance to win the division with three wins to close out the season, had just 94 total yards with a little more than five minutes to play in the third quarter against the NFL’s worst defense — which played a key role in the loss to the Falcons.

With everything at stake, the Saints committed three turnovers and Drew Brees was sacked five times as they lost for the fifth time in the last seven games after standing 4-4 at the midway point of the season.

“It’s disappointing to know that with two games left we controlled our destiny,” Brees said. “Now, we’re not able to do that. It’s very disappointing.”

Players admitted they didn’t do a lot of scoreboard-watching, mainly because they had their hands full with the Falcons in what was the biggest game of a mistake-filled season.

“It’s disappointing at this stage of the season with what was at stake,” Saints coach Sean Payton said of the loss. “It’s a tough loss and there is that sting to it with the finality (of it). Yet, we didn’t play near as well as we needed to get the win.”

One day after his team came up on the wrong end of a controversial call that loss to Atlanta, Payton wasn’t complaining about how the game officials handled the situation.

Tight end Jimmy Graham was ruled to have fumbled when he caught a pass and tried to fight his way into the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter with his team trailing 20-7.

Payton and several of his players thought the ball, which was in Graham’s left hand, crossed the goal line as he was being held up by Falcons safety Dezmen Southward. But officials ruled a fumble when the football was ripped from Graham’s grasp by safety Kemal Ishmael.

Referee John Parry and league officials in New York reviewed the play before allowing the play to stand as called, which infuriated Payton and Saints’ fans in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Parry said there wasn’t enough visual evidence that the ball crossed the plane of the goal to overturn the call on the field.

“In fairness to the officials yesterday, I really got a fair — although I didn’t want to hear it — a solid answer from (John) Parry,” Payton said at his Monday news conference.

Parry told a pool reporter that because it was so close the play would have remained a touchdown if it had been ruled a touchdown on the field. But it was originally ruled a fumble, so the ball went to the Falcons.

“It’s hard to really argue that, because it kind of is what it is,” Payton said. “Obviously, it was a significant play in the game. And yet, it wasn’t just the deciding factor.”

Notes: Running back Pierre Thomas left the game in the first half because of a rib injury and did not return. … Left cornerback Keenan Lewis needed intravenous fluids in the second half and played just 41 of 65 defensive snaps.

REPORT CARD VS. FALCONS

–PASSING OFFENSE: D — Drew Brees completed 30 of 47 passes for 313 yards with one touchdown, but it was far from an artistic success for the Saints. What those numbers don’t show is Brees was sacked five times for 42 yards, he threw two interceptions and lost a fumble and had a long of just 27 yards. Tight end Jimmy Graham also lost a fumble while trying to fight his way into the end zone after a catch. Marques Colston caught six passes for 80 yards, Kenny Stills has 68 yards on six receptions and Graham, who also had a 4-yard touchdown catch, had 53 yards on six grabs.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: D — The Saints managed to net just 57 yards and had a 3.2 average for the second week in a row. Mark Ingram had 38 yards and a 1-yard touchdown on 13 carries, but his long run of the game was just 8 yards. Brees had the longest run of the afternoon for the Saints on a 9-yard scramble in the first half and he finished with eight yards on two carries. Khiry Robinson had seven yards on two attempts in what was an unproductive day for the Saints.

–PASS DEFENSE: D — Matt Ryan didn’t carve the Saints up the way he did in the season opener, but he was effective enough in hitting on 30 of 40 attempts for 322 yards with one TD and no interceptions. He was on target for most of the afternoon, especially with his wide receivers, and threw 17 completions for 208 yards to Julio Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas. Jones caught seven balls for 107 yards, White had six receptions for 55 yards and Douglas had four catches for 47 yards. Ryan’s job was made easier when the Saints couldn’t generate a pass rush and failed to sack him.

–RUSH DEFENSE: C — The Saints did a fairly decent job although they gave up a 31-yard touchdown run to Devante Freeman, who led the Falcons with 36 yards on five carries. As a team, the Falcons finished the game with 81 yards and a 3.7 average on 22 attempts. Other than Freeman’s long dash, the Saints did not give up a run longer than 8 yards. Jacquizz Rodgers had 29 yards on 11 carries, most of it after Steven Jackson went to the bench in the second quarter with a quadriceps injury after netting nine yards on four attempts.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B — Thomas Morstead had a big game in averaging 50.0 gross yards and 49.5 net yards on four punts with a season-long 63-yarder that rolled dead at the Falcons’ 6 — one of two the Saints downed inside the 20. Rookie Jalen Saunders returned two kickoffs for 120 yards, including a 99-yarder to start the game that set up a 1-yard Mark Ingram TD run. The Saints were also solid in kick coverage, holding the dangerous Devin Hester to a 24.5 average on two kickoff returns and a 1.0 average on two punt returns.

–COACHING: C — It’s hard to blame Sean Payton for his team’s play in the loss, but a lot of the same inconsistencies the Saints have shown throughout their topsy-turvy season haunted them Sunday when they had to have a win to remain in the playoff hunt. One of them was turnovers as the offense gave the ball away three times to offset a decent performance by the defense. One of the giveaways was a fumble by Drew Brees when he was being sacked on the final play of the game which the Falcons returned for a touchdown.


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