Saints fans just witnessed a lot of positive events over the weekend, some of which for the first time in quite a while. Michael Thomas caught his first touchdown in 395 days to kick things off on Sunday. It was also the first time New Orleans saw Deonte Harris play in nearly two months, and the first time ever he caught 6 or more passes in an NFL game. Most importantly, with a 21-9 win on Sunday, it was the first playoff win for the Saints in 728 days. It is a glorious feeling to say nonetheless, even if the game did not turn out the exact way many hoped for.
New Orleans defended their home turf and won by 12 points, covering the 10.5 point spread, but not able to reach the over of 48 in this low-scoring affair. There were points left on the table by both sides, plenty of defensive plays made, and one home winner. For the seventh straight matchup versus Chicago, New Orleans came out victorious. The Saints joined the Bills as the only playoff team this season to not be upset in the Wild Card round, but it wasn’t an easy feat.
The Saints jumped to a 7-0 lead after exchanging punts early in the first. The TD came via an 11-yard Brees-Thomas connection to cap off an 8-play, 55-yard drive. However, the Saints would not score the rest of the first half. The rest of the first and the entire second quarter was filled with mainly punts by both teams, aside from a pair of turnovers: the Bears failed to convert on 4th down from New Orleans’ 44 the drive immediately after the Saints scored, and Taysom Hill fumbled when he dropped back to Las and faced pressure. It could have been a big shot downfield but was an opportunity for Chicago instead. A made 36-yard Cairos Santos field goal six plays later, and a missed 50-yard Wil Lutz FG earlier in the half, led to the 7-3 halftime score. This made the Saints very nervous, just like their fans.
Chicago smartly deferred to begin the game, giving them possession with (some) momentum to open the third quarter, still only down by four points. There were only a total of seven drives in the entire 2nd half, three of them resulting in touchdowns. Two of those three were for the Saints, who masterfully controlled the clock in the third and fourth quarters. Their two touchdown drives took a total of 27 plays and 16:20 off the clock, securing a victory for New Orleans. The first of the two was a savvy pass TD to Latavius Murray to beat a red zone blitz, the second was a 3-yard TD rush by Alvin Kamara to put the Saints up 21-3. A garbage-time TD drive by Chicago gave them the 21-9 final score, as they did not kick the extra point after an incredible one-handed catch by Jimmy Graham to cap the day off.
MVP’s of the game: Deonte Harris and his 7 catches for 83 yards, both career highs. The referees also had calls in favor of New Orleans throughout the game, a rarity for playoff Saints football.
The Saints will stay at home and welcome, for the second time in four months, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into the Superdome. The Bucs are coming off a shaky-yet-impressive 38-29 victory over the 4th-seeded Washington Football Team in DC. The Saints defeated the Bucs twice in 2020 by a combined 46 points, but will playoff Tom Brady affect the outcome drastically? Or will it be the Saints marching yet again? One thing is for sure: both teams will be using motivation, and many corrections after watching film, to play as well as possible this Sunday in New Orleans.