December 28, 2008

Saints' 2008 Season Ends With Multiple Letdowns

Defense fails against Panthers in final minutes, Brees 16 yards short of NFL passing record

The New Orleans Saints’ furious rally from a 30-10 deficit that had resulted in the Black-and-Gold taking a 31-30 lead with just over two minute remaining in the game were dashed when Carolina’s John Kasay kicked a 42-yard field goal with :01 left in the game to give the Panthers a 33-31 victory over the Saints.

“This is obviously a very disappointing lose,” said Head Coach Sean Payton. “I’m proud of the way our team fought back from a pretty good sized deficit. I thought we played better in the second half but that is overshadowed by the two turnovers we committed and by us not being able to protect a lead late in the game.”

“The players kept fighting and I thought we had the momentum in the second half,” Payton said. “And, we were making plays. We had a lead with three minutes left and needed to make a play. In a lot of ways it was no different than the Chicago game a few weeks ago. The result ends up in a loss. That is really disappointing to me.”

Saints QB Drew Brees became just the second player in NFL history to pass for more than 5,000 yards in a season, but the Saints’ signal-caller fell 14 yards shy of tying Dan Marino’s single-season passing record and 15 yards shy of setting a new mark.

Moments earlier WR Lance Moore scored his second touchdown of the fourth quarter on a 13-yard pass from QB Drew Brees. The Saints rallied back from a 30-10 deficit to take a 31-30 lead late in the fourth quarter.

On the drive before Moore’s go-ahead touchdown, Moore scored on a nine-yard touchdown pass from QB Drew Brees to pull the Saints to within a touchdown of the Carolina Panthers, 30-24. During the drive Brees became just the second player in NFL history to pass for over 5,000 yards in a season.

On the previous drive Saints WR Robert Meachem scored a touchdown on a seven-yard pass from Drew Brees to pull the Saints within two touchdowns of the playoff bound Carolina Panthers and trailed the visitor’s 30-17 at the time.

Earlier in the second half Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart scored on a two-yard TD run early in the third quarter to extend the Panthers’ lead to 30-10 over the New Orleans Saints. Carolina had kicked three field goals to the Saints’ one, though the Saints scored on a 26-yard reception by Marques Colston late in the first half that pulled the Saints within two touchdowns.

The Panthers accepted the opening kickoff after winning the coin toss and elected to receive the football and set up shop at their own 24-yard-line after a 20-yard kickoff return by Mark Jones. After a first down incompletion by Jake Delhomme the Panthers ran five consecutive times and moved from the 24 to the Saints’ 45 before throwing their next pass, which came via a five-yard completion from Delhomme to Steve Smith. RB DeAngelo Williams then got around the left side of the Saints’ defensive line for a 14-yard gain before being hauled down by S Roman Harper along the Saints’ sideline. Facing a first-and-ten from the 26 the Saints’ defense forced Delhomme into moving around in the pocket and caused an errant throw and MLB Jonathan Vilma stopped rookie RB Jonathan Stewart three yards behind the line of scrimmage on second down. The Panthers were guilty of a false start on third-and-13 and pushed back five yards, which they picked back up on a draw-play on third down. Carolina settled for a 45-yard field goal by John Kasay, which gave the Panthers a 3-0 lead after 8:06 had expired in the game.

The Saints’ offense was stopped after three downs on their initial drive. RB Deuce McAllister started the drive with a four-yard run, but couldn’t reel in a second down dump down pass over the middle from QB Drew Brees and the Brees’s third down pass to TE Bush Ortega was deflected at the line of scrimmage and fell incomplete. P Glenn Pakulak hit a 54-yard punt to the Carolina 18 that Jones returned 10 yards before being dropped by LB Troy Evans.

Williams burst through a hole in the middle of the line and rumbled 30 yards to the NO 49 before Harper could drag him down. RB Jonathan Stewart was then bottled up after a one-yard gain but shook free from a gaggle of Saints’ defenders on a second down run and picked up 16 yards as he kept his feet in bounds along the sidelines to the Saints’ 32. Delhomme then hit WR Mushin Muhammad for a five-yard gain on first down and Williams garnered a first down on a 10-yard jaunt on second down. Delhomme and Smith couldn’t connect on a first down pass and DT Hollis Thomas and CB Randall Gay stopped Williams on second down after a pick up of one yard. Delhomme and WR D.J. Hackett connected for an eight-yard gain on third down in the red zone, but Gay stopped the receiver shy of the first down markers and the Panthers elected to take advantage of the drive with a 26-yard field goal by Kasay, giving the visitor’s a 6-0 lead.

New Orleans received a boost on their second possession when return many Skyler Green ripped off a 42-yard kickoff return to the New Orleans 40. Brees then hit WR Lance Moore for five-yards, then hit Ortega for a three-yard gain. The Saints converted their first third down of the game when RB Mike Bell cutback and hit a hole and picked up five yards to the Carolina 47. Bell came right back and picked up a hard earned three yards on the final play of the first quarter.

The first play of the second quarter saw Brees hit WR Marques Colston on a slant for 14 yards and then the quarterback found TE Billy Miller down the seam of the defense for a gain of 20 yards to the Carolina 10. Brees and Moore hooked up on a quick out for a gain of five yards on first down and then Bell picked up two yards. A third down pass intended for Miller was incomplete, as Miller appeared to either slip or be held up slightly coming out of his break by LB Jon Beason. Rookie K Garrett Hartley came out and nailed a 21-yard field goal to close the Panthers’ lead to 6-3 with 12:35 left in the first half.

Carolina appeared to be backed up on first down when they were called for a holding infraction that pushed them back 10 yards to their own 17 yard-line. But Delhomme and Muhammad quickly carved the Panthers out of the hole courtesy of a 28-yard completion over the middle. Two plays later Delhomme and Steve Smith connected on a 25-yard completion to the Saints’ 29. The Saints bottled up the Panthers’ running game on first and second down and appeared to have the Panthers stopped on third down after Vilma batted down a pass intended for Smith over the middle. But a late flag from the back judge negated to the call as Vilma was flagged for pass interference and Panthers were given new life at the Saints 21. But defensive stops by LB Scott Shanle, Vilma and a timely third down pass defensed by S Josh Bullocks on TE Dante Rosario ended in the Panthers once again relying on Kasay’s kicking efforts, this time via a 34-yard field goal that pushed the score up to 9-3 in the Panthers’ favor.

After kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd drilled the ensuing kickoff deep into the end zone for touchback the Saints started at their own 20 and picked up an 11-yard gain by McAllister. Saints G Jahri Evans was flagged for a holding call that pushed the Saints back almost to their original starting position. The Saints tried a hand-off and pitch back to Brees who tried to connect deep downfield with Robert Meachem, but the two couldn’t team up due to tight coverage by CB Richard Marshall. McAllister picked up five yards on second down and the Saints faced a third-and-15 and Brees, under a heavy pass rush, tried to thread a pass to Colston in coverage. The pass was intercepted by S Chris Harris at the Saints’ 45 and returned 16 yards to the Saints’ 29. Williams then ran three straight times to the Saints’ 8, including a 13-yard gain on a third-and-two, which took the ball from the New Orleans 21 to the 8. The Panthers then play-action faked and Delhomme connected with Muhammad over the middle for a touchdown pass that put the Panthers ahead 16-3 with 3:09 following Kasay’s extra point.

The ensuing kickoff was fielded by Green who returned the ball to the 10 before being stripped by LB Landon Johnson and picked up by CB Dante Wesley and returned for an easy score that put the Panthers ahead 23-3.

The Saints, trailing by 20, called on the passing game to try to dig them out of the hole and promptly saw as Brees and Colston hooked up for three straight completions, going for 15 yards, 8 yards and 20 yards on the final play before two minute warning. Miller was called for a holding infraction and the Saints were pushed back 10 yards. Brees then connected on a short completion to McAllister and on second down fired another pass over the middle to Colston, who caught the pass in traffic for a gain of 21 yards and while being upended, was stripped of the ball at the Carolina 15 by Richard Marshall, who also recovered the ball.

The officials called upon video replay to review the ruling of a fumble on the field, seeing had maintained possession of the ball. The call on the field was overturned and the Saints maintained possession of the ball but faced a third-and-nine, but Brees found Henderson on a screen and the speedy receiver from LSU bounced off two tackles and picked up the first down.

Two plays later Brees dropped back and fired a pass to Colston, who despite double coverage, went up high in traffic and made a finger tip grab and used his strength to get into the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown to pull the Saints within two touchdowns, 23-10. The scoring drive coverage 80 yards in nine plays in 2:20 in time of possession.

The Saints accepted the opening kickoff to start the second half, trailing 23-10, and with QB Drew Brees 265 yards shy of breaking Dan Marino’s single season passing record. Lloyd’s kick sailed out of the end zone and the Saints took over at their own 20 and nearly picked up a big chunk of yardage on the first play from scrimmage but Brees and Moore were just off in their timing. Two plays later and facing and third-and-seven Brees and Henderson teamed for a 19-yard completion and a first down. The Saints couldn’t muster any more yards on first and second down incompletions and DE Julius Peppers ruined a third down pass attempt with a nine-yard sack of Brees and the Saints were forced to punt. Pakulak hit a 49-yard effort to the Carolina 18 that Smith returned 10 yards to the Carolina 28.

Williams picked up three yards, then nine yards for a first down. Delhomme then dropped back and found Steve Smith deep downfield for a 54-yard gain to the Saints’ 6. Two plays later Stewart bulled his way over from two yards out and the Panthers extended their lead to 30-10.

New Orleans started their second drive of the second half at their own 20 and picked up eight yards on a first down. Miller then caught a 21-yard effort from Brees, but Brees was sacked by Marshall for a 10-yard loss and two plays later the Saints were forced to punt, with Pakulak uncorking a 61-yard effort that bounced into the end zone for a touchback.

The Panthers started at their own 20 and managed an 18-yard completion on first from Delhomme to Muhammad. Stewart was stacked up for minimal gains on first and second downs and facing third-and-seven Delhomme fired a precise pass over the middle to Hackett for 30 yards and the first down. Carolina went back to the running game and picked up six yards on first and second down and Shanle snuffed out a third down sweep by Williams for no gain and Kasay trotted out and attempted a 41-yard field goal, which he pulled wide to the left and New Orleans took over at their own 31 with 3:22 remaining in the third quarter.

Brees bought time and hit McAllister in stride for a gain of 20 yards to the Carolina 49. New Orleans was flagged for a false start on C Jonathan Goodwin, which cost them five yards, but Brees came back and hit Moore for a gain of 14 yards. Brees tried to hurry the Saints up and catch the Panthers in a deployment crunch on second down but his pass to Colston was a tad high. McAllister bulled forward for a five yard gain and a first down with an up the middle run and Brees came right back and hit WR Robert Meachem for a gain of 14 yards to the Carolina 21. McAllister then churned out a hard earned seven yards behind a wall of blockers. Brees threw a second down pass away after tight coverage from the Panthers but the Saints caught the Panthers with a third down draw play that McAllister took for seven yards and a first down to the Carolina 14 on the final play of the third quarter.

On a first and goal from the seven Brees’s pass to Moore was incomplete after Peppers generated heat on Brees. But the signal caller came right back and fired a quick out to Meachem, who scampered the remaining seven yards for the score which pulled the Saints to within 30-17 with 14:48 left in the game.

Carolina, with the advantage of playing with a comfortable lead, managed to effectively mix the run and the pass together and cobbled together an extended offensive drive that began at their own 28. Carolina drove to the Saints’ 35, where they were confronted with a third-and-seven. T Jordan Gross was flagged for an illegal procedure violation that pushed the Panthers back five yards and the Panthers tried a quick screen to Muhammad, who was decked by CB Usama Young after a one yard gain. Carolina’s first punt of the game was downed at the Saints’ 11 yard-line with 10:07 left in the game.

Miller, lined up as a fullback, was flagged for an illegal procedure violation and the Saints lost five yards before the ball was even snapped. Brees hit FB Mike Karney in the flat for a gain of seven yards on first down and then hit McAllister for a gain of four yards. The third down was converted when Brees dropped back and hit Moore over the middle for a gain of 20 yards to the Saints’ 37 and came right back and connected with Moore for a gain of 17 to move the ball in Carolina territory. Two consecutive incompletions on first and second downs brought up a third-and-10, but Brees coolly hit Colston over the middle for 14-yard gain. Brees then hit Miller for a gain of 15 yards and in the process Brees hit the 5,000-yard mark for the season (317 for the afternoon). He became just the second player in NFL history to eclipse the 5,000 yard mark in season.

A holding call on Jammal Brown cost the Saints 10 yards and McAllister was dropped for a two-yard loss on first down and Brees and Meachem couldn’t connect on second down as a defender was draped over the receivers back in coverage. Brees caught the Panthers off-sides and very nearly hit Colston in the end zone, but a Panthers popped the ball loose at the last second. Brees came right back and hit Meachem for a gain of 15 yards. Facing a fourth-and-two from the 9 the Saints called their first timeout of the second half. On fourth down Brees hit Moore in the flat and the receivers hook off a would be tackler and dashed the final nine yards into the end zone to pull the Saints within a touchdown following the extra point, 30-24.

The Saints’ defense then railed and shut the Panthers out on their next series, receiving a huge play when Shanle blasted Delhomme from the blind side on a second down blitz. The Panthers were forced to punt and received a shaky 21 yards effort from punter Jason Baker to the Carolina 45.

Brees then hit McAllister for six yards on a screen, Colston down the sideline for a 26 yards and a then hit Moore for another score, this time a 13-yarder that put the Saints ahead 31-30 following Hartley’s extra point.

Carolina took possession at their own 18 and with all of their timeout remaining and went on top right off the bat, with Delhomme connecting on a 39-yard pass to Smith on the first play of the drive.

“On that play Jake came off his primary read, he had too much time to move around in the pocket and lofted it up there for Smith,” Payton said. “Steve made a play over his head, as we know he can do and prepare for, and they made the play. That is really frustrating.”

Williams then picked up four yards and Muhammad caught an eight-yard pass from Delhomme to the Saints’ 39. Williams picked up one yard and eight yards and Kasay trotted out to try a 42-yard field goal with :06 left. He nailed the field goal and the Panthers retook the lead, 33-31, with :01 left.

Lloyd’s squib quick bounced out of bounds and the Saints took over at their own 40 with :01 left. Brees’s final pass of the game, intended for Moore, fell incomplete at the Panthers’ 30 and the Saints’ regular season came to an end.

Drew Brees finished 15 yards shy of Marino’s single season passing record.

Notes: The New Orleans Saints activated RB Lynell Hamilton from the team’s practice squad and waived DE Tearrius George from the 53-man roster. Hamilton, a rookie from San Diego State, has spent the majority of the season on the Saints’ practice squad after being with the Saints during the ’08 training camp and throughout the preseason. George, meanwhile, was signed by the Saints off of the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad three weeks ago but did not appear in a regular season game with the Saints, as he was declared inactive for the previous three contests.

Inactive players for the Saints included: QB Joey Harrington (3rd QB), RB Pierre Thomas, CB Michael Lehan, G Jamar Nesbit, DT Kendrick Clancy, DE Rob Ninkovich, WR David Patten and TE Jeremy Shockey. For the Panthers the following players were inactive: QB Matt Moore (3rd QB), G Mackenzy Bernadeu, DT Maake Kemoeatu, WR Kenneth Moore, S Quinton Teal, LB Adam Seward, DT Damione Lewis and WR Dwayne Jarrett.

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