Is There a Referee Conspiracy?? Who Cares, Saints Still Beat Panthers

Maybe it’s our collective PTSD.  Maybe there really is a man (Goodell) behind the curtain.  Maybe it’s just bad luck.  Maybe the refs are really out to get the Saints for making such a stink about officiating mistakes.  Maybe the penalties are all actually warranted, and the Saints need to clean up their game.  (I think we can all agree the last one ain’t true.)

But no matter how we’d all like to spin this, New Orleans won anyways, and the division is essentially ours to own for the third straight year in a row.  With a win Thursday, not only will the NFC South be officially ours again, but it won’t even be December yet.  Wowsers, y’all.  And here we sit at 9-2 with a very good shot at the number 1 seed in the playoffs.  So sit down in your jacuzzi (real or fictional), turn on your tv, watch the highlight reel of just the Panthers’ kicker Slye missing three kicks, hold up 6 fingers (I’m going to hell), sip your brandy, and laugh maniacally.  Let’s geaux!!

THE RECAP:

For the first time all season, the Saints came out of the gate swinging.  4 passes (one a 30 yarder to Ginn) and 3 rushes to open the game and a touchdown on the opening drive.  It was beautiful.  Latavius Murray broke open for 28 yards and ran in (Murray, present!).  Not even 5 game minutes had passed.  Brees was perfect and in “vintage form” to start the game.

But that wasn’t enough to excite us in the 1st quarter.  After the Panthers got stopped on their opening drive, the Saints got the ball, but ultimately had to punt as well.  This drive was stalled by an offensive pass interference call against Jared Cook.  I’ll come back to that later.  On the Morestead punt, the ball went sailing downfield where DJ Moore was calling for a fair catch.  How awesome is JT Grey for us?  He pushes a blocker into Moore, and the ball hits and ricochets off of the blocker’s foot.  Live ball!!  Saints recover.  The Saints did not waste this opportunity.  4 plays later, Drew hits Tre’quan Smith in the endzone on a playaction fake that worked so well, Smith might as well caught that ball alone in the Sahara.  And we’re still in the 1st quarter!!

This is where the fun slowed down.  Those ugly yellow flags had started to show up from the Saints’ second drive of the day.  And the refs did not let up ALL game.  And then PJ Williams and Marcus Williams blew coverage and Kyle Allen hit DJ Moore on a 51 yard touchdown strike.  Oof.  Silver lining was the missed extra point.  Then, another Saints drive stalled by penalties.  Field goal.  Then a long Panthers drive, aided by penalties, ultimately stalled and they kicked a field goal.  The Saints get the ball and go three and out.  Good Carolina D.  And finally, on the last drive of the half, the Saints hold the Panthers with a great sack by Demario Davis on 3rd and 16, only to have it negated by a personal foul on Cam Jordan.  It was a self-inflicted wound, a boneheaded move, whatever you want to call it.  I do believe that Cam didn’t hear the whistle, and he did make a vain attempt at punching out the ball, but c’mon, he’s smarter than that.  It’s hard enough to fight through bullshit calls only to do something like that.  And the Panthers chipped away, both at the clock and at the Saints D, and go a McCaffrey touchdown going into the half.  Again, silver lining, they went for two and didn’t get it.

That fun 14-0 had suddenly ended at halftime 17-15 Saints.  What happened??  We all went into halftime feeling very stressed out as a fan base.  The second half did us no favors.  More penalties, and more favoritism toward the Panthers.  That was, in no way, an evenly officiated game, on top of being a poorly officiated game.  Even so, the Saints kept on fighting.  Kamara finished the first half with -6 yards receiving and 1 yard rushing.  Spoiler alert:  marked improvement in the second half.

After a Carolina 3-and-out to start the second half, the Saints got the ball on their own 38.  Five plays later, Drew Brees hits Jared Cook on a beautiful 20 yard touchdown strike.  24 – 15.  Carolina gets into field goal range aided by a PJ Williams’ “illegal use of hands” penalty.  Carolina’s Slye belts a 52 yarder.  24 -18.  New Orleans then answers back as Brees & Co were on a tear.  Jared Cook catches a high 20 yard strike in mid field that you should absolutely go look up if you didn’t catch the game.  Brees threw too high, and Cook looks like he snatches it 15 feet out of the air.  These two are certainly building that oft talked about “chemistry”.  Speaking of chemistry, this drive is capped off by a 30 yard sprint by Kamara and a 3 yard touchdown catch by Michael Thomas.  31 – 18.  Game should be back under control, right?

Not so fast!  The penalties were heating up, and they didn’t need help because once again, PJ and Marcus of the clan Williams allowed DJ Moore to have another huge gain for 52 yards.  Even if their shitty coverage had not played into the Panthers’ hands, the bullshit call on Eli Apple for defensive holding would’ve done the trick.  Wah waaaaaah.  Either way, first down because, hey, let’s call only iffy calls on the Saints and gloss over anything Carolina does.  This drive ends in a McCaffrey touchdown.  31 – 24.  Silver lining, ANOTHER MISSED EXTRA POINT!!  Never comfortable.

After trading series of 3-and-outs, the third quarter had ended, and New Orleans had the ball again with 13:28 left in the 4th.  on the second play of the drive, Brees launches about a 40 yard strike perfectly into the hands of Ted Ginn…who drops it…you arm truthers can shut the hell up because that was a beautiful strike.  2 plays later Brees throws a head scratcher into triple coverage.  Intercepted.  Not an arm strength issue as much as a dangerous throw in ANY situation, because we were IN OUR OWN TERRITORY.  Self-inflicted wound, a boneheaded move, whatever you wanna call it…

And what happens?  You guessed it!  Another touchdown aided by a penalty!  Suddenly, it’s a tie game!  31 – 31.  With 9:23 left in the game, the Saints have the ball and were marching…sort of.  They had struggled to get to midfield thanks to a couple of penalties against them.  On 4th and 1 from midfield, they sent Kamara up the gut where he was stuffed for a 2 yard loss.  Terrible call, but you know what??  It didn’t matter because a THIRD penalty for holding on the line (penalty of course declined) negated all of it, Saints turnover on downs.

But this is where that strange F U magic came in.  Carolina has the ball, and they’re able to drive down (for once, aided by no penalties) to the NO 5 yard line, and the Saints stop them on an incomplete pass, 4th down.  NO WAIT!!  Ron Rivera has thrown a challenge flag, challenging that there was defensive pass interference on the play.  CALL OVERTURNED, MINDS BLOWN EVERYWHERE!!!  WHAAAAAAAT?!?!?!?  1st and goal from the NO 3 now.  Christian McCaffrey runs.  1 yard loss.  2nd and goal.  Kyle Allen passes.  Incomplete.  3rd and goal.  Marcus Davenport sacks Kyle Allen for a 6 yard loss!!  4th and goal.  Slye kicks a 28 yard field goal…NO GOOD!!!!!

This.  Right here.  Did you feel it if you saw the game?  This was where that old feeling we’ve become familiar with stepped in.  You knew the Saints had it.  You didn’t know the how, but you just knew to trust in the team. With a 1:56 on the clock, New Orleans got to work.  Brees got sacked immediately for a 6 yard loss, and all the nails of the Who Dat Nation were bitten off.  But after that, it was beautiful craftsmanship.  The Saints marched 65 yards down the field in brilliant fashion, and Wil Lutz kicked a game winning 33 yard field for the win as time expired.  Whew… Oh and that Alvin Kamara update:  he finished the game with 54 yards on the ground, and another 48 in the air.  Not a bad second half, ol boy.

THE RECLINE:

Jesus, where to begin.  Let’s start with PENALTIES!!!  The flags flew freely against the Saints all day, and several times it felt like the flags were like insurance in case the Carolina plays didn’t go well.  The Saints finished the day with 12 penalties accepted for 123 yards.  There was probably around another 30-50 yards in penalties NOT ACCEPTED.  And those Carolina Panthers??  3 accepted penalties for 25 yards.  Yep.  That’s it.  Does that seem at all like a game called evenly.  As if the Carolina Panthers are so disciplined, and the Saints are just so reckless??  And yes to any naysayers, I’ve already been admitting that some were warranted.  Cam Jordan especially.  That was stupid.  But here’s a stat (courtesy of the Saints Happy Hour Podcast), this season, the Saints have been penalized 86 times so far, as opposed to 60 times combined for their opponents.  Less shocking is that it’s the biggest discrepancy in the league.  Also, another interesting conspiracy stat dropped from the Saints Happy Hour podcast, is that the Saints have had more Thursday night football games under Sean Payton than any other team in the league.  Just saying, folks. Something feels up.

So believe what you want, conspiracy or not, but I’ll lay it out for you this way.  In the Carolina game, Payton challenged a Jared Cook offensive pass interference call that was weak.  Call upheld.  In the 4th quarter, Rivera challenged a non call that there was pass interference on the play.  Weak contact.  Call overturned!  on a comparative basis, two week calls, one overturned.  But here’s another piece:  there was illegal contact by the defender against Jared Cook, so the issue of offensive pass interference is then moot.  The question we can’t have answered is “Does it matter if Payton’s challenge had specifically addressed the illegal contact if that would have changed the outcome?”  Where’s a time machine when you need one?  Final thought on this:  Jared Cook is a giant amongst small men, and he is being targeted by the refs for his freakish size, I think.  There is no difference between brushing off and pushing off with him.  It’s a tree trunk with a bear paw swinging around the defender.  The end result is the same.

Moving on to more positive notes, you gotta be happy about this New Orleans offense coming alive.  34 points is the kind of offensive game we’ve been craving.  And you gotta be encouraged by Cook especially (99 yards receiving and a TD), but even Smith and Ginn were getting more looks.  Less exciting were Ginn’s trademark ball drops.  Even the back up left side of the O line held up nicely.  And the defense?  The front looks good.  Another week, another running back failing to get 100 yards on the ground, but this time it was Christian McCaffrey.  That is soooo much more satisfying.  It’s the Williams duo that was unsettling this past weekend.  Let’s all hope Marshon Lattimore will be back this Thursday.  Let’s get the inconsistent PJ back in the slot…or less rotational.  Too hot and cold.

This Carolina game ended up much closer than it should’ve been, but somehow the Saints still managed to “steal” the victory at the end.  Drew Brees and Michael Thomas alone were playing lights out almost the whole game, with the interception being the only fault on Brees.  Thomas by the way had a mere 101 yards and a TD on the day.  I believe he’s still on pace to break all the records (All of them.  You name it.). And Demario Davis. Dios mio, he is a wrecking ball not just against Carolina, but every week. He’s our most consistent player. It took some crucial penalties and blown coverage to keep Carolina the game.  Then it took their kicker missing 2 extra points and a “gimme” field goal to guarantee us the win.  At the end of the day, let’s all be relieved that we are 9-2, but at the same time, worried because we’re only sort of in control of our destiny since we’re being penalized with such monster truck force.

THE PRECLINE:

Thanksgiving Thursday in Atlanta, round 2!!  Are the Dirty Birds and us the new Thanksgiving night special??  We’ll know next year for sure when we play in Tokyo for Thanksgiving Thursday night.  Goodell will call it the “Triple T” event. One thing I can tell you right out of the gate about this Thursday:  we ain’t losing this game.

As soon as that embarrassing loss at home happened two weeks ago, Sean went to his office, pulled out his trusty red Sharpie, and circled this Thursday’s game, and he’s been scheming it now for almost two weeks.  I expect Lattimore to play, and I think he could’ve played against Carolina, but Payton wanted to ensure he was a go for this Atlanta game. The same goes for Deonte Harris. Expect him to suit up and play too.

One major difference in this second matchup is that the Dirty Birds will be without Austin Hooper, their TE who had a touchdown and a couple of conversion catches as well two weeks ago.  And Julio is questionable to play as well.  Matt Ryan is still not 100%, and I expect the Saints to be hanging out in his backyard all day like they’re hungry for some BBQ.  Even if the Saints are without Lattimore, Harris, and Clapp (all listed as questionable), I still expect them to pull away in the end.  Saints sit on Falcons face and fart.

SAINTS 38 – FALCONS 20

**Like my blog? Hate my blog? Got questions? Hit me up with your questions and comments on Twitter @saintsrecline or email me at saintsrecline@gmail.com**

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