Gritty play shows Saints not ready to quit on tough season
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — It took until Week 16 before the New Orleans Saints finally managed to win two consecutive games this season.
Doing so after falling behind 10-0 in freezing Cleveland weather offered evidence that the Saints haven’t quit on first-year coach Dennis Allen.
It’s a silver lining for a team that is guaranteed to have a losing record at the end of the regular season and could be eliminated from playoff contention after this weekend.
“What it says is we’ve got a bunch of really mentally tough guys,” linebacker Chase Hansen said Monday. “That’s something that coach Allen preached all week. It’s one thing to talk about it. It’s another thing to see it come to fruition in a game like that.
“Just the mental toughness I felt like it showed at this point in the season, at that point in the game (when Cleveland led by 10), I was impressed by a number of guys and I was grateful to be a part of it,” Hansen added.
To make playoffs, the Saints (6-9) will have to win their final two games — one of which is on the road against the NFC-leading Philadelphia Eagles. They also need help in the form of two losses by Tampa Bay to win the NFC South.
Technically, the Saints also remain alive for the last wild-card spot, but they trail Washington (7-7-1) by 1 1/2 games and Green Bay, Detroit and Seattle (all 7-8) by a game.
Even if the Saints don’t make the playoffs, Allen and his staff have an interest in showing their players haven’t checked out. A strong finish could lead to a more stable, hopeful offseason.
There’s still a lot to prove. Not one of New Orleans’ victories has come against a team that currently has a winning record.
But the Saints didn’t fold after falling behind by two scores at Cleveland during the coldest game in franchise history (9 degrees, with wind gusts making it feel even colder). Instead, they scored 17 unanswered points and made a game-saving defensive stand at the end.
“Definitely one I won’t forget,” offensive lineman Calvin Throckmorton said. “It was one of those nasty, grueling kind of games.”
Now they get at least one more work week with a chance at the playoffs — however remote.
“It shows a lot for what this team’s made of,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “We’re still alive and so we’ve got to keep controlling what we can control and see what happens.”
The running game powered by Alvin Kamara and Taysom Hill. Hill averaged 6.2 yards per carry on direct-snap runs. Kamara averaged 3.8 yards per carry on a combination of direct snaps and conventional handoffs. The Saints finished with 152 yards rushing, their second straight game with 134 or more.
“That’s an important part of what we’ve been able to do the last couple weeks is kind of get the run game going,” Allen said. “The run game is more about staying with it and staying committed to it. ... That’s difficult to do in a game where you’re down 10-0, but we stayed committed to it and it ended up paying off.”
WHAT NEEDS WORK
While the defense has made enough plays to win the past two weeks, New Orleans’ numbers defending the run have not been particularly flattering. The Browns rushed for 124 yards one game after the Saints allowed 200 or more yards rushing for the third time this season.
The Saints’ 132 yards rushing allowed per game ranks in the bottom third of the NFL. But Allen was encouraged by the Saints allowing fewer than that average against a Browns running attack featuring Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Cleveland is “a really good running football team,” Allen said.
Kamara appears to be back in form, gaining more than 100 yards from scrimmage (76 rushing, 34 receiving) against the Browns. That gave Kamara two straight games with at least 100 scrimmage yards after a five-game rut in which he didn’t reach that mark once.
Receiver Keith Kirkwood was unable to come down with two catchable balls thrown his way by Dalton, both on third-down plays. He finished without a reception.
Left guard Andrus Peat (leg) was carted to the locker room in the first quarter, another blow to New Orleans’ offensive line after guard Cesar Ruiz went on IR earlier in the week. Safety Justin Evans didn’t play in the second half because of a shoulder injury. The Saints are still waiting to see if top cornerback Marshon Lattimore can come back from an abdominal injury that has sidelined him for 10 games.
1 — The number of games in which the Saints have had fewer than 100 yards passing this season after finishing with 92 at Cleveland. In this case, it was enough. The game also was the Saints’ sixth with 130 or more yards rushing. New Orleans is 5-1 in those games.
The Saints visit Philadelphia on Sunday and finish the regular season at home against Carolina on Jan. 8.
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