This Sunday's Wildcard playoff round saw the New Orleans Saints defeat the Chicago Bears 22-9 at the Superdome. 2 touchdown passes from effervescent QB, Drew Brees, and a rushing-TD from Alvin Kamara was enough to get the job done for Sean Payton's team.
New Orleans advance to the last 8. The reward for victory: a home game against NFC South division rivals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who disposed of Washington on Saturday.
Chicago, on the other hand, can be proud of the end of season form that saw them qualify for the Wildcard round in the first place, but if the franchise has any ambition of going deeper into the playoffs, Matt Nagy must add some offensive firepower during the offseason: the Saints' D was rarely troubled; Jimmy Graham's superb, late one-handed grab for a TD a mere consolation.
Let's take a look at 5 key takeaways from Sunday's huge contest
#5 New Orleans is a different prospect with the receiving corps back in action
Sunday saw the Saints able to field a full-strength set of receiving corps for the first time since week-1 of the season. Michael Thomas returned to form, posting 73-yards and a touchdown; Deonte Harris (who is so underrated in my humble opinion) returned to slot/WR3 and registered 83-yards. Emmanuel Sanders didn't have much of an afternoon with the ball in hand, but he ran hard and tied up defenders. QB, Drew Brees had plenty of runners to pick out, and once the Saints started hitting the options-routes in the 3rd and 4th quarters, the yardage followed.
This wasn't the Saints passing game in full flow... but it was a prelude of things to come. Another good week of training, and it could be a long afternoon in coverage for the Buccaneers at the weekend.
#4 Is CJ Gardner-Johnson the NFL's best wind-up merchant?
When the Saints faced the Bears back in wk-7 of the regular season, there was this bizarre bust-up between Javon Wims and CJ Gardner-Johnson.
Fast forward to wildcard weekend, and now it's Bears' Anthony Miller who's talking a pop at Gardner Johnson. The infraction caused Miller to be ejected from the game, further weakening an already depleted Chicago receiving corps.
It's not the first time that the versatile Saints' safety has managed to get under the skin of his opponents this year either, begging the question: is CJ Gardner-Johnson now the NFL's best trash-talker? He's clearly doing something right!
#3 Matt Nagy has work to do during the off-season
The defeat to the Saints was a microcosm of the Bears' season in many respects: the defense was tough as an old boot, and on offense, there were chances to score (how about Mitch's 50-yard jump-shot straight into Javon Wims's basket! -- nothing but net!); but much like the rest of the season, indiscipline entered proceedings; the Bears gave up costly penalties at key moments, and the offense struggled to convert.
Assuming he returns to the Bears' war-room, Matt Nagy needs to add some more offensive fire-power in time for Chicago's next assault on the NFC North: they need a back to share the burden with the excellent David Montgomery, they need an experienced option at the receiver to take the pressure off the young talent, and it's no sure deal that QB Mitch Trubisky returns to the fold next year either (if reports are to be believed), so they might need to tap up a new gunslinger, either in free agency or the draft, too.
Either way, it's a big off-season for Nagy and the Bear's misfiring offense.
#2 Drew Brees means business in what could be his last assault on the Super bowl
Drew Brees seemed to enjoy his afternoon in the pocket against the Bears. The 42-year old escaped the contest without being sacked, and he registered 265-yards and 2 touchdowns: a fine performance from 'Breesus.'
When the Saints QB thought he'd dived over the line for his team's 4th TD of the afternoon, he turned and lambasted the camera crew with all the vigor of an athlete half his age. Sure the score was rightly chalked off for being short, but that moment of intensity said it all: Brees absolutely means business in what could be his last run at a Lombardi trophy. Buccaneers beware.
#1 What do the Saints need to improve in time for the visit of Tom Brady and the Buccaneers?
If we learned anything from the Browns pummeling of the Steelers on Sunday, it's that you can't read too much into regular-season games once the playoffs come round. The Saints pass rush may have annihilated Brady and the Buccaneers when the teams met in Tampa back in wk-9 (the Saints won 38-3 and had been out of sight right from the early goings), but if anyone remembers that, it's Tampa coach, Bruce Rioch, and he will have plans to plug the holes in his offensive line in time for Sunday's encounter. It won't be like it was in wk-9 -- that's for sure.
That is unless Trey Hendrickson returns to the fold for the Saints' pass rush. The much-improved defensive end finished up with 13.5 sacks to his name and is the lead bringer of pain in the Saints pass rush; not Cam Jordan; not Demario Davis; Trey Hendrickson is the man down in the Bayou, and the Saints need him back to unsettle Tom Brady in the pocket.
If Trey returns, and the New Orleans passing game continues to develop now that their wideouts are all fit, I think they get the job done next week, but it'll be close.Published 13 Jan 2021, 17:54 IST