The race for the NFC's two first-round byes just got tighter.
The New Orleans Saints improved to 11-3 on the season with a 34-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. They already clinched the NFC South and are tied with the Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers in the battle for those byes after Drew Brees set the record for career touchdown passes and completion percentage in one game during the latest effort.
As for the Colts, they dropped to 6-8 with a fourth straight loss and were officially eliminated from the playoffs.
Notable Fantasy Stats
- NO QB Drew Brees: 29-of-30 passing for 307 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions
- NO RB Alvin Kamara: 14 carries for 66 yards; five catches for 23 yards
- NO WR Michael Thomas: 12 catches for 128 yards and one touchdown
- IND QB Jacoby Brissett: 18-of-34 passing for 165 yards, zero touchdowns and zero interceptions
- IND RB Marlon Mack: 11 carries for 19 yards
- IND WR T.Y. Hilton: four catches for 25 yards
Drew Brees Sets Record as Saints Flex All-Around Dominance
It's not often the outcome of the game takes a backseat to a storyline this late into a playoff chase, but that was the case Monday.
Brees entered the game a mere two touchdown passes behind Peyton Manning's career record of 539. It was clear from the early going the future Hall of Famer was going to set the record against Manning's old team, as he found Michael Thomas and Tre'Quan Smith for scores in the first half to surpass Tom Brady's 538 and tie the all-time mark.
It appeared as if he broke the record in the first half when he connected with Smith again, but it was called back for offensive pass interference. Fortunately for Saints fans, Brees made sure the penalty didn't prevent history when he found Josh Hill for touchdown pass No. 540 on the opening possession of the second half.
The record was another reminder that Brees is a living legend and in full control of an explosive offense with Thomas and Alvin Kamara.
That group generates many of the headlines and optimism when evaluating New Orleans' Super Bowl chances, but the defense was also under the spotlight Monday after the previous 48-46 loss to the 49ers.
It answered the call from the get-go when it blocked a punt on the Colts' first possession and kept the momentum late in the second half with a 4th-down stop after Brees set the record. The Saints swarmed Marlon Mack whenever he touched the ball, forcing Jacoby Brissett into a situation in which he had to throw it, and they looked like an entirely different defensive unit than last time out.
The showing was all the more impressive since safety Vonn Bell and linebacker Kiko Alonso were sidelined with injuries.
New Orleans doesn't have to shut opponents down because of the firepower on the other side, but it also can't play like it did against the 49ers if it hopes to beat the NFC's elite. Monday's game was a much-needed boost of confidence.
Not Even T.Y. Hilton Can Save Colts' Playoff Hopes
Things were looking up for the Colts heading into the game considering wide receiver T.Y. Hilton was suiting up for the first time since Nov. 21.
After all, Indianapolis was 5-2 when he was on the field prior to Monday. His presence opens up the offense, punishes defenses for putting additional players in the box to stop Mack and creates lanes across the middle for tight end Jack Doyle.
It is not a stretch to suggest the Colts could be in playoff position if the four-time Pro Bowler had been healthy all season.
The version on display against the Saints wouldn't be enough, though. Brissett never found a rhythm, the defense was unable to contain Brees, and Hilton struggled to create separation with Marshon Lattimore lined up on the opposite side.
It's time for Indianapolis to turn its attention toward the offseason.
The Colts host the Carolina Panthers in Week 16, while the Saints are at the Tennessee Titans.