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Around the NFC South: Week 16

What went down around the division during week 16?

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday was another standard loss for the Buccaneers as they fell 27-20 to the Cowboys in Dallas. Tampa Bay was hurt by penalties and turnovers in what turned out to be its third straight loss and 10th loss overall. The team hit double-digit losses for the seventh time in the last decade, which almost certainly means change is coming soon, right?

Regardless, there’s only one more week of this miserable season. Before we get there, let’s check in on how week 16 unfolded for the rest of the NFC South.

New Orleans Saints (13-2)

Despite losing a 10-point lead in the second half, the Saints rallied back for a 31-28 home victory over the Steelers on Sunday. The first half went back and forth between the two teams, with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara both scoring touchdowns before a Wil Lutz field goal gave New Orleans a 17-14 halftime lead. After the break, the Saints went 75 yards in 11 plays to go up 24-14. Pittsburgh had fight left to give, scoring two unanswered touchdowns to end the third quarter. The Steelers held a 28-24 lead for much of the fourth quarter, but a late drive was capped by a game-winning two-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Michael Thomas with 1:25 left. With the victory, New Orleans clinched the top seed in the NFC.

Brees had a good day, throwing for 326 yards and a touchdown on 27-of-39 passing. Kamara ran for two touchdowns, while Thomas put together another monster day in a long line of them. He caught 11 of his 13 targets for 109 yards and the game-winning score. The New Orleans defense had trouble with Pittsburgh’s powerful offense at times, but did recover two fumbles on the day. One went to Demario Davis and the other was recovered by Alex Okafor.

Up Next: vs. Carolina Panthers (6-9)

Atlanta Falcons (6-9)

The Falcons moved up in the NFC South standings with a 24-10 road win over the Panthers on Sunday. Despite not having Cam Newton, Carolina managed to hang around in the first half. The game was tied 10-10 after 30 minutes, but Atlanta scored the final 14 points in the third quarter to pick up a second straight victory. Matt Ryan found Calvin Ridley for a 75-yard touchdown to give the Falcons a 17-10 lead before hitting Mohamed Sanu for a 44-yard score to add to the lead. The Atlanta defense gave up 436 yards on the day, but forced four turnovers in the win.

Ryan continued to play well on Sunday, completing 15 of his 26 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns. Those three scores went to three different receivers, with Julio Jones getting in on the action before the later touchdowns by Ridley and Sanu. Brian Hill had a big day on the ground for the Falcons, rushing for 115 yards on just eight carries (14.4 yards per carry). Tevin Coleman added 51 yards on 10 carries. Brian Poole, Jack Crawford and Isaiah Oliver all came up with interceptions on the day. Poole added a fumble recovery, marking his second straight week of having a recovery and an interception.

Up Next: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-10)

Carolina Panthers (6-9)

The Panthers continued their collapse on Sunday, falling 24-10 at home to the Falcons for their seventh straight loss. With Cam Newton shut down for the season, Carolina started Taylor Heinicke at quarterback. He got out to a nice start, leading a 14-play, 73-yard drive that lasted 8:03 before giving the Panthers a 7-0 lead with a one-yard touchdown pass to Ian Thomas. However, that ended up being Carolina’s only touchdown of the day. A 50-yard field goal by former Buc Chandler Catanzaro accounted for the team’s only other points. Overall, the Panthers outgained the Falcons 436-427, but turned the ball over four times in the loss.

Heinicke completed 33 of his 53 passes for 274 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted three times. Christian McCaffrey continued to do Christian McCaffrey things, rushing for 101 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries in addition to catching 12 of his 13 targets for 77 yards. Jarius Wright was the second-leading receiver with 69 yards on seven catches, but he also lost a fumble. Catanzaro made his only two attempts on the day (one extra point, one field goal). He is three-for-three on field goals and four-for-four on extra points since joining the Panthers.

Up Next: at New Orleans Saints (13-2)