The New Orleans Saints keeping alive their playoff hopes entering Sunday's regular-season finale partly has been due – and not a small part – to Derek Carr putting together his most efficient stretch of quarterback play this season.
Heading into New Orleans noon kickoff against the Falcons (7-9) in the Caesars Superdome, the Saints (8-8) have won three of their last four games and Carr has been at his best, completing 92 of 126 passes (73 percent) for 853 yards and 10 touchdowns, with two interceptions. He has been sacked five times and hasn't fumbled.
Not to be underplayed is the fact that Carr possibly has experienced his healthiest four-game stretch.
"He's probably as healthy as he's been in a while, and so, you feel his accuracy in his passing, you feel more comfortable in the pocket," Coach Dennis Allen said Monday. "Obviously, I think the protection has improved, and that also leads to him being a little bit more comfortable in the pocket.
"There are still some times I think we need to do a little better job of being on the same page with everything. But for the most part we've been on the same page with what we're seeing in the passing game."
That cohesion has contributed to better ball protection; in the first 12 games, Carr had 11 touchdown passes and six interceptions, was sacked 24 times and fumbled six times.
"He's done a good job of protecting the football for the most part, and that's the No. 1 stat in football, is the turnover-takeaway ratio," Allen said. "I think it was a big part of the win (Sunday against Tampa Bay, when the Saints were plus-4). That's one of the things that we continue to preach, is make sure that we're taking care of the ball offensively and when we're in the return units and special teams, and being able to take the ball away when you're on defense or in the coverage units on special teams."
SEWELL SEASON OVER: The worst fears for linebacker Nephi Sewell were confirmed: torn ACL, and he's out for an extended period of time.
"That's going to cause him to have to have surgery so obviously, that's a long recovery process," Allen said.
Sewell's main impact play came on special teams, when he forced a fumble on a punt that was recovered and returned for a touchdown by teammate D'Marco Jackson.
PADDED PRACTICE: With a 10-day gap between their Thursday night game against the Rams and Sunday's game against Tampa Bay, the Saints slipped in a padded practice last Wednesday. No word on whether they again will do so this Wednesday. "I thought it was important, the fact that we did have a lot of time off," Allen said. "I knew that winning the line of scrimmage was going to be important and felt like putting the pads on and putting an emphasis on that was something that we needed to do last week. We'll see where we're at on Wednesday."