EIGHT IS GREAT: Saints Overwhelm QB-Less Broncos in Denver for 8th Straight Victory

Photo by Derek E. Hingle

In their 54-year franchise history, the New Orleans Saints have probably never been a bigger favorite to win an NFL game more than the one they eventually won yesterday.

And even though the visiting Black and Gold won going away over a short-handed Denver Broncos squad that literally didn’t have an experienced quarterback playing in the game because of COVID-19 concerns, New Orleans has won 8 straight games which has now put them on the cusp of earning a 4th straight NFC South Division title and perhaps more importantly: allowed them to remain as the #1 overall Playoff seed in the National Football Conference.

Make no mistake about this much; nobody in the entire NFL expected Denver to be able to win this game, after it had been revealed on Saturday Night before yesterday’s contest that the Broncos would be forced to start practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton at quarterback; after all the quarterbacks on their active roster were ruled high risk for COVID-19, following #2 Broncos QB Jeff Driskel‘s placement on the reserve/COVID-19 list earlier in the week.

Driskel tested positive for the coronavirus this past Thursday, and the prior contact of #1 Broncos starting QB Drew Lock and back-ups Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles to Driskel earlier in the week; also rendered them ineligible to play under the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols.

Hinton — who played QB in college at Wake Forest University (located in North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference) — then was eventually named the starter at QB, and finished 1-out-of-9 passing attempts for only 13 yards with two interceptions and a passer rating of zero.

Denver became the first team in the NFL to complete just one pass in a game since the 2005 San Francisco 49ers. Hinton was 0-for-7 with an interception in the first half as Denver became the first NFL team since their own 2011 squad (who had QB Tim Tebow as their starting QB back during that time) to finish an entire half without a single pass completion. The Broncos were also the first NFL team since the 1998 San Diego Chargers to have more interceptions than completions in a game.

That proved to be very beneficial to a surging Saints defense that in the past few weeks has risen all the way up to the League’s 3rd best defense overall; and after giving up an early first down on the game’s first offensive series as the Broncos utilized plays from the “Wildcat formation” behind Denver RB Phillip Lindsay, the Saints essentially shut them down from that point on.

As it was, the Saints offense approached yesterday’s contest somewhat conservatively, choosing to dedicate themselves mostly to running the football against a stout Broncos defense to the tune of an impressive 229 overall rushing yards.

New Orleans averaged a stellar 5.2 yards per carry, most of it through #2 Saints RB Latavius Murray; who had his first multi-touchdown game since Week 4, as he led the Black and Gold running attack with 19 carries for 124 yards and two scores. Superstar #1 RB Alvin Kamara played sparingly but still managed to finish with 11 carries for 54 yards.

Additionally, QB Taysom Hill — making his 2nd start in place of the injured Drew Brees — rushed for two touchdowns and finished with 10 carries for 44 yards. Hill now has tallied four rushing touchdowns since taking over last week at home against Atlanta.

However that said, Hill looked inefficient on several occasions throwing the football, as he completed just 9-out-of-16 passes for 78 yards and an interception, as the Saints passing offense finished with only 63 net passing yards in 11 possessions, a season-low.

Hill averaged just 4.9 yards per pass attempt, and on a few plays seemed to be indecisive or simply held on to the ball too long in the pocket before getting sacked on more than one occasion. For Hill. it means that he still has much work to do such as working on his timing with his receivers, as well as improving his passing skills.

Nevertheless, Hill’s ability to make throws down the field was still enough to help keep the Broncos defense at bay; which in turn opened up the Saints running game. The Saints ran the ball a whopping 44 times, and essentially were able to put the contest on “cruise control” from that point on.

As it was, the Saints offense didn’t really need to do much, as the defense limited the short-handed Denver offensive unit to only six first downs and a grand total of 112 yards of offense.

Denver Broncos on Twitter (Original by Aaron Ontiveroz)

It’s still important to note that the Broncos refused to give up, and chose to play yesterday’s game with talk of a possible forfeit never an option that they ever once considered. Their entire franchise deserves big-time credit and a huge amount of respect from the rest of the League, simply for accepting a challenge that no one truly expected them to be able to overcome.

That sentiment was echoed loudly by Broncos head coach and long-time NFL defensive guru Vic Fangio.

“He did everything he could,” Fangio said after the game in reference to Hinton. “He was excited for the opportunity. We had about a two-, three-, four-hour window to get him ready, which isn’t a lot obviously. He was excited for it. We were excited for him; his teammates were excited for him. That’s a big, big ask, and it just didn’t work out.”

From the Saints perspective, head coach Sean Payton (who seemed to be annoyed after being asked more questions about Taysom’s passing issues) was a little less complimentary, and simply made the point that Denver’s predicament was their own fault for not following the League-imposed COVID-19 restrictions.

“Look, I think it’s tough for all the (teams),” Payton said in his post0game teleconference. “Look, this is a challenging year. I felt bad for the cardboard fans. But it is what it is.”

Indeed it was, and now as the Saints move forward with the longest active winning streak in the NFC, things aren’t likely to be nearly as easy as they were yesterday, for the remainder of their season and the upcoming Playoffs in January.

The Black and Gold will face off against their hated arch-rivals the Falcons for the 2nd time in the past 3 weeks, next Sunday at Atlanta….

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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