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New Orleans Saints again prove adaptability in victory over Carolina to close out regular season

Offense went four of five in red zone, defense had five interceptions and three sacks

Game action photos from the New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers matchup on Jan. 3 in Week 17 of the 2020 NFL season.

Charlotte, N.C. – If you were at all surprised by the New Orleans Saints' 33-7 victory over Carolina on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium, you probably shouldn't have been in the least.

If you thought for a moment that losing their entire running backs room due to a positive Covid-19 test and contact tracing, and three of their top four safeties due to Covid or injury, would be enough to derail the Saints (12-4) as they sought to finish out the regular season on a high note, clearly you haven't been paying attention.

New Orleans has won without its starting quarterback, its record-setting receiver, its two starting cornerbacks, its offensive line in flux, a half-night's sleep for several members of the organization due to a false positive Covid test, and likely a handful of other things that didn't reach the public domain.

That resiliency showed Sunday against the Panthers (5-11).

OFFENSE: It'd be a stretch to go so far as to say, "No Alvin Kamara, no problem." Kamara had an electrifying regular season, highlighted by a franchise-record 21 touchdowns and 932 rushing yards. But minus the fourth-year running back – and the next two backs on the depth chart, Latavius Murray and Dwayne Washington – the Saints ran for 156 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. Ty Montgomery had 105 yards on 18 carries. And Drew Brees balanced the run with 22 completions, on 32 attempts, for 201 yards and three touchdowns. New Orleans took advantage of the opportunities presented and went four for five in the red zone. Those are winning numbers under almost any set of circumstances.

DEFENSE: Did we mention missing players? Defensively, the Saints were without safeties Marcus Williams, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and D.J. Swearinger, plus linebacker Kwon Alexander. What they did about it was this: Five interceptions (one each by safeties Malcolm Jenkins and P.J. Williams, and by cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore, Ken Crawley and Grant Haley), and three sacks (two by Carl Granderson and one by Trey Hendrickson). New Orleans allowed just 320 yards and perhaps best of all, the run defense got back on track by allowing 74 yards on 20 carries. Three interceptions came in the end zone, which means three scoring opportunities were rebuffed, and the Saints also had two fourth-down stops (Carolina was 1 for 9 on third down). New Orleans was effective enough to get quarterback Teddy Bridgewater benched, and then to intercept his replacement, P.J. Walker, three times and sack him twice.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Wil Lutz missed a point-after attempt, but he made a couple of field goals – including a 48-yarder – and that was encouraging. That was the main thing, because the Saints simply don't allow much return yardage (21 on a kickoff return, eight on a punt return) and they were efficient on their own returns (nothing on kickoffs, but 20 yards on two punt returns by Tommylee Lewis).

Game action photos from the New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers matchup on Jan. 3 in Week 17 of the 2020 NFL season.

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