The Saints last home stand of the regular season reminds fans there's no place like Dome.
Overcast skies and scattered showers hovering above the Crescent City did nothing to dampen spirits in Champions Square, much less inside the weatherproof Caesars Superdome, as an exuberant crowd full of 69,170 fan faithfuls were in attendance to cheer on the New Orleans Saints (7-8) hosting the Carolina Panthers (5-10) on the second day of 2022.
Needing all the prayers they could get, Who Dat Nation's chorus filled the rafters as New Orleans' Brett Maher kicked off the contest for their final home game of the regular season, even with a dwindling 34% chance of capturing a playoff berth Sunday, along with a 1-5 losing record on their home turf.
Saints quarterback Taysom Hill's touchdown efforts were thwarted as effectively as the Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold's were. However, kicker Lirim Hajrullahu's field goal gave Carolina a lead with 8:05 left in the first quarter, only to be tied 3-3 with New Orleans by Maher's 41-yard kick four minutes later.
A demoted Cam Newton made a cameo as the Carolina QB early in the second quarter, contributing with a five-yard rush which set up rookie Chuba Hubbard's 21-yard run into the end zone, followed by a successful extra point, leaving New Orleans trailing 10-3 within the first two minutes. In their next possession, Darnold fumbled when P. J. Williams sacked the QB, and Marcus Davenport recovered the ball. Maher closed the gap with the resulting 27-yard field goal that re-energized the team, allowing Hill to bookend the quarter by "moving dem chains" on their next possession to another field goal by Maher within the two last minutes, ending the half with the Saints down by one at 10-9.
Fans' prayers were seemingly heard in the second half with a effective symbiotic Hill-Kamara combo. Scoring another field goal in the third period by Maher, the fourth quarter saw a 63-yard drive in seven plays fueled by Hill and Kamara resulting in a touchdown, with Maher missing extra point, elevating New Orleans to an 18-10 lead.
Carolina possessed the ball with two minutes remaining, but C. J. Gardner-Johnson sent the Saints crowd into seventh Heaven by once again sacking Carolina's QB. He further sealed the Panthers' fate by intercepting a pass with 46 seconds left as the Who Dat chant thundered from frenzied fans. Like a true saint, Hill genuflected into victory, taking a knee for the final play of the game.
But New Orleans' continued postseason aspirations will not be easy. Beyond needing to win their final season game against the lame-duck "Dirty Birds" next week in Atlanta—already eliminated from contention—the team's post-season destiny is also at the whim of interlocking victories and losses over which the Saints have no control.
And while this Sunday home game may be the Saints' last appearance in the Caesars Superdome this season, this win reminds the Who Dat Nation there's still no place like Dome, and may yet help the Saints come marching in to a coveted Wild Card berth, making the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season.
Heaven help us all!