NEW ORLEANS – The Saints are in control of the NFC South after another dominating win over Carolina Sunday afternoon at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome by 31-21 after dismantling the Panthers, 34-13, on Sept. 24 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
That was a special win more than two months ago because the Saints went in 0-2. New Orleans went on to win eight straight in all, and Sunday’s win was its ninth in 10 games. The victory guaranteed a winning season, which has not happened since 2013.
The Saints, who have not won the South since 2011, also now stand alone atop the NFC South at 9-3 with Carolina second at 8-4, and Atlanta in third, two games behind New Orleans at 7-5 following a 14-9 loss to Minnesota on Sunday.
The Saints will be at Atlanta Thursday night. Then New Orleans will host the 5-7 New York Jets on Dec. 17 and Atlanta on Christmas Eve before closing the regular season at 4-8 Tampa Bay on New Year’s Eve. Even if the Saints split with Atlanta and beat the two struggling teams, they’ll finish 12-4. Few saw that coming. Few saw 11-5 either. I was saying 7-9.
But this was how Sunday ended:
“Brees takes a knee … Brees takes a knee … Brees takes a knee.” This was how how you end a game.
Rookie sensation Alvin Kamara was all over the field once again, finishing with 126 total yards – 60 rushing on just nine carries with two touchdowns and 66 on five receptions. His 20-yard touchdown run midway in the third quarter put the game away at 28-14.
Veteran Mark Ingram joined the party as well as he rushed for 85 yards on 14 carries with a 72-yard explosion over right guard in the second quarter to the Carolina 12 that set up his 3-yard touchdown run for a 14-7 lead in the second quarter. He added six catches for 37 yards.
Ingram busted through a big hole in the middle of the line on the 72-yard gain, then cut for the final 40. The run was the second longest non-scoring rush in Saints’ history.
Quarterback Drew Brees was once again consistent, if not quiet, as he completed 24 of 34 for 269 yards and a touchdown with zero interceptions. His 10-yard strike to wide receiver Michael Thomas made it 21-7 in the second quarter.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was not very effective, which was the case in the first game. He finished 17 of 27 for a pedestrian 183 yards and two touchdowns, and the Saints did not have top cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who missed his second straight game with an ankle injury. He should be back for a better Atlanta passing game on Thursday.
The Saints went right to work at the outset for a 7-0 lead when they drove 70 yards in 11 plays with the opening kickoff. Kamara scored on a pitch over right end from two yards out on fourthand goal with 10:21 to go in the first quarter. It was the same play in which Kamara scored a two-point conversion to tie Washington 31-31 late in regulation before a 34-31 win in overtime two weeks ago in the Superdome.
It was obvious with that fourth down gamble, the Saints were not here to just get by. They were here to win the division.
“Ultimately, it’s playing each down like it’s your last,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.
And on this Sunday, they actually did win the South, if they can hold serve and take care of business the rest of the way.