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New Orleans Saints defense adds another shut-down performance to its resume

Saints had four sacks, forced two turnovers, allowed 247 yards against Carolina

New Orleans Saints' Eli Apple (25) celebrates his interception as Carolina Panthers' Devin Funchess (17) watches in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

Charlotte, N.C. – Drew Brees said it best: A win is a win.

It doesn't have to be beautiful, it only has to stack up and the New Orleans Saints stacked another one Monday night, 12-9 against Carolina at Bank of America Stadium. If they can stack one more, it'll earn them the No. 1 seed in the NFC for the playoffs and assure that any playoff game for them, other than the Super Bowl, will be played in New Orleans.

New Orleans is 12-2, and heading home for the final two regular-season games after finishing with a 7-1 road record. Those are the pertinent numbers. Here are a few more:

OFFENSE: The Saints thought they'd snapped out of their six-quarter doldrums with a 25-point second half against Tampa Bay. A 12-point performance against Carolina says there's still a lot of work that can be done before the Saints return to their 30-point scoring ways. Now, credit Carolina's defense – it's a very good unit, and it knows the Saints' offense as well as any team because it sees New Orleans twice a year, every year. But the Saints passing game is out of rhythm. Brees (23 of 35 for 203 yards) was intercepted for the fourth straight game. New Orleans survived the in-game loss of two starting linemen, center Max Unger and left tackle Jermon Bushrod, and that was encouraging. Too, it shouldn't be taken lightly that the Saints rushed for 155 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries, and crafted an 11-play, 84-yard touchdown drive when they needed it most. But the Saints committed costly penalties and Tommylee Lewis' fumble at the 1, through the end zone, could have been calamitous. Expect better execution Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers.

DEFENSE: The acclaim isn't being lavished on the Saints' defense, but the numbers say that the Saints are playing as well as any defense in the league. With four sacks, two forced turnovers and 247 yards allowed, the Saints – in the last six games – have totaled 28 sacks, 14 turnovers and allowed less than 300 yards four times. Eli Apple (an interception, two pass breakups) and Vonn Bell (a forced fumble, a sack, a pass defensed and seven tackles) headlined the stinginess for New Orleans, which held the Panthers to 98 rushing yards, almost 40 below Carolina's per-game average. This is exactly the way you'd want the defense to be playing entering the playoffs.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Wil Lutz now has made 27 of 28 field-goal attempts. Tommylee Lewis had a nice, 13-yard punt return. Alvin Kamara nearly broke a kickoff return, which wound up being a 50-yarder. And Thomas Morstead was at his angling best – four punts for a 42-yard gross and 41.8-yard net. Too, the Saints came close to blocking a punt a couple of times. In consecutive games, New Orleans has been better than solid on special teams and if the unit continues to play this way, it becomes more of an asset than just a hold-its-own facet.