1. TIME TO REBUILD THE SAINTS:
Despite a last-minute surge, the New Orleans Saints dropped their ninth game of the season to the Detroit Lions by a score of 35-27 Monday night. It’s the second straight losing season and will be the third year out of the last four in which they have missed the playoffs.
In truth, the rebuild began last offseason with the trade of tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks for, among other assets, center Max Unger. Then, in November, the team fired underperforming defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, though that didn’t seem to change the fortune of the defense.
Now the Saints face an offseason that will bring difficult decisions. Do they stick with head coach Sean Payton who, despite the recent struggles, has an 85-57 overall record as head coach? A message can get stale after a time, and Payton has been around for nine years (not counting the season he was suspended for Bountygate).
There has been talk of both firing Payton and trading Drew Brees. While the QB has struggled at times the last two seasons, Brees continues to perform well and put together some impressive records, including one set Monday night.
+ Lions roar in the red zone
The Lions scored a touchdown on five of their six red-zone drives in their 35-27 triumph over the Saints on Monday night. Dating back to its Thanksgiving matchup with the Eagles, Detroit reached the end zone 15 times in a span of 16 drives inside its opponents’ 20-yard line (through the first five red-zone trips on Monday night). Over the last seven seasons (since 2009), only three other teams had such a span within one season: the 2013 Broncos, 2013 Bengals, and 2014 Broncos. Each had a conversion rate of 15-for-16.
The Lions rank first in the NFL in red-zone offense this season, having scored a touchdown on 71.4 percent (30-of-42) of drives inside their opponents’ 20-yard line. Over the last 20 seasons (since 1996), they have finished in the top two in that category twice (1996 and 2010, ranking second each time).
+ Stafford stars in Lions’ win
Matthew Stafford completed 12 of 13 passes, including three that went for touchdowns, in the first half of the Lions’ victory. Only four other active quarterbacks threw at least three touchdown passes with one-or-fewer incompletions in the opening half of a game: Aaron Rodgers in October 2010, Tony Romo in November 2011 and December 2014, Matt Ryan in December 2012, and Ryan Tannehill in October this season.
Stafford finished the night completing 88 percent of his passes (22-for-25), the highest rate for any quarterback this season and the second-highest rate in a Monday Night Football game (minimum 20 pass attempts). The Raiders’ Rich Gannon went 34-for-38 (89%) in a Monday night rout of the Broncos in November 2002 (Gannon won the NFL Most Valuable Player award that season). And in third place on that Monday Night Football list? Eli Manning (27-for-31, 87%) last Monday night.
+ Tate stays golden’
Golden Tate caught a pair of touchdown passes (one in the first quarter and another in the second) in the Lions’ win on Monday, after totaling two TD receptions in last week’s matchup with the Rams. Tate is the fourth player with multiple touchdown receptions in each of two straight games this season, joining Doug Baldwin (four straight games, Weeks 12 to 15), Ted Ginn (three, Weeks 13 to 15), and Larry Fitzgerald (two, Weeks 2 and 3). The only other Lions player to do so over the last 10 years is Calvin Johnson, who had two such streaks – a four-game run in September/October 2011 and a two-game streak in November 2013.
2. Not Derrick Henry
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey is The Associated Press college football player of the year, becoming the first non-Heisman Trophy winner to earn the honor in six years.
McCaffrey was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy to Derrick Henry, but received 29 of 60 votes from the AP Top 25 media panel to edge the Alabama running back.
Henry received 16 votes and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson was third with 11. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield each received two votes.
3. You’re the Worst:
The Saints defense isn’t in need of a single statistic to sum up its historically awful season — there’s more than a few readily available. Neither does Brandon Browner, the team’s starting cornerback and captain, who has been at the center of the Saints struggles both on the field and off the field.
But on Monday night, as Matthew Stafford burned the Saints defense for three touchdowns, Browner made NFL history — the kind of history that perfectly represents his first season in New Orleans. On Monday night, Browner broke the NFL’s single-season penalty record.
4. The Lake-Show
Today in Sports History
On December 22, 1971, the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA) defeat the Baltimore Bullets 127-120 in Baltimore for their 27th straight victory, breaking the previous record for the longest winning streak in professional sports. They had previously been tied with baseball’s New York Giants, who won 26 games during the 1916 season.
Coached by Bill Sharman and led by future Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, the 1971-72 Lakers began their historic run of victories on November 5, 1971 (also over the Bullets). They set a new NBA record with their 21st win on December 11, beating the Atlanta Hawks 104-95 and surpassing the 20-game winning streak of the Milwaukee Bucks the previous year. As Chamberlain told the press on December 22, “We did our celebrating when we won No. 21. That was the big one.”
5. Ultimate Value Lineup – Week 13
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