With 22 players out because of Covid-19 and the team starting its fourth quarterback of the season, the New Orleans Saints offense couldn't get on track against a rugged Miami defense and the Dolphins rolled to a 20-3 victory Monday, Dec. 27 at the Caesars Superdome.
The loss ended the Saints' two-game winning streak and dropped their record to 7-8, making them 10th in the NFC standings. The win was the Dolphins' seventh consecutive as they improved to 8-7.
The New Orleans Saints take on the Miami Dolphins at the Caesars Superdome in Week 16 of the 2021 NFL season.
Rookie quarterback Ian Book, a fourth-round pick out of Notre Dame who was starting after veteran quarterbacks Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian landed on the Covid-19 list, had his second pass attempt tipped at the line of scrimmage and then intercepted and returned 28 yards for a Miami touchdown. That score and a 48-yard field goal by Jason Sanders allowed the Dolphins to take a 10-3 halftime lead. Miami put the game away when quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw a 1-yard shuffle pass to receiver Jaylen Waddle for a touchdown in the third quarter. Waddle dominated the game with 10 catches for 92 yards. Miami added a 34-yard Sanders field goal in the fourth quarter.
"I thought our defense battled," Coach Sean Payton said. "In fairness to Ian, it's impossible to evaluate his play."
The entire first quarter was tough for Book as the Saints had minus-13 yards passing and minus-2 yards of offense. The second quarter was better and Book finished the half five of seven for 52 yards with his best drive ending with a 38-yard field goal by Brett Maher. The second half wasn't much better. Book finished 12 of 20 for 135 yards with two interceptions and running back Alvin Kamara had 52 yards on 13 carries. Marquez Callaway was the top receiver with four catches for 46 yards. The Saints didn't convert a third-down attempt (0 for 12) and had just 164 yards of offense.
The New Orleans defense was stout for much of the game; the Waddle touchdown was the first it surrendered since the third quarter of the loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 2. Defensive end Marcus Davenport had a sack-forced fumble, linemate Cameron Jordan had two sacks and cornerback Marshon Lattimore had an interception in the third quarter. But with the offensive line decimated by injuries and Covid, Book had very little time to throw and the running backs didn't have much room to operate either. Book was sacked eight times.
"Just keeping him upright was a challenge," Payton said. "It was a tough position for him to be in."
The Saints, who are 2-5 in home games this season, will play host to the Carolina Panthers (5-10) on Sunday, Jan. 2 and then end the season at the Atlanta Falcons (7-8). New Orleans will need to win both of those games and have the other NFC teams competing for the final two wild card spots to lose at least one game in order to make the playoffs. San Francisco (8-7) and Philadelphia (8-7) occupy the sixth and seventh spots after Week 16. The Saints would lose a tiebreaker to the Eagles because of their Week 11 loss in Philadelphia.