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Around the NFC South: Week 17

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It was the final week of the regular season in the NFC South, but in the big picture, nothing that happened on the field really mattered.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers played another hot-and-cold game to wrap up the 2018 season on Sunday, blowing a 17-0 lead on their way to a 34-32 home loss to the Falcons. Jameis Winston played a very good game, while Mike Evans and Chris Godwin had huge days to wrap up their solid seasons. The defense started strong, but couldn’t hold it together in the second half. However, none of what happened on the field at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday really mattered in the grand scheme of things. The same goes for the other NFC South game happening at the Superdome.

Not long after the game ended, the Bucs announced the firing of head coach Dirk Koetter. On Monday, the Falcons announced staff firings of their own, though head coach Dan Quinn is still around. As for the other two teams, Sunday’s game didn’t impact much. The Saints still have home-field advantage in the playoffs, and there don’t seem to be any changes coming for the Panthers.

With all of that said, let’s take a look at the game action itself from week 17 in the division.

New Orleans Saints (13-3)

With home-field advantage already locked up, the Saints rested Drew Brees and others for Sunday’s game against the Panthers. The result was a 33-14 home loss that dropped the division winners to 13-3. Teddy Bridgewater got the start for New Orleans, but it was all Carolina early. Even without Cam Newton, the Panthers took a 30-0 lead into the fourth quarter. Overall, the Saints didn’t have time to mount any sort of comeback. They were outgained 374-294 in the loss, turned the ball over once on offense and failed to force a turnover on defense.

Bridgewater finished the day 14-of-22 for 118 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted in his first start since January of 2016. Dwayne Washington got a chance to shine at running back for New Orleans, picking up 108 yards on 11 carries. The quiet day for the Saints’ passing game meant the team’s leading receiver was rookie Tre’Quan Smith (three catches for 30 yards and a score).

Up Next: First-round bye in NFC playoffs... Will host the lower-seeded winner from the Wild Card Round in the Divisional Round on Jan. 12 or Jan. 13.

Atlanta Falcons (7-9)

The Falcons ended their disappointing season on a positive note, beating the Bucs 34-32 on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. Things were looking rough early for Atlanta, with Tampa Bay taking a 17-0 lead late in the second quarter. Matt Ryan and the offense had nothing going for most of the first half, but a 75-yard drive that took only 26 seconds got the Falcons on the board before the break. From there, it was all Falcons for a while. What turned out to be a 31-3 run had Atlanta up 31-20 in the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay scored two straight touchdowns to go up 32-31 with 5:10 to go, but a perfectly-executed drive ended in a game-winning field goal by Matt Bryant. The Falcons put up 489 yards of offense in the win.

Ryan finished his day with 378 yards and two touchdown passes (to one interception) on 31-of-44 passing. He also caught a touchdown pass from Mohamed Sanu to add to his big day. Sanu had seven catches and 90 yards of his own, while Julio Jones led the way for Atlanta receivers with nine catches for 138 yards and a score. Damontae Kazee came up with his seventh interception of the year in the win.

Carolina Panthers (7-9)

The Panthers, even without Cam Newton, finished their year with a 33-14 road win over the Saints. Rookie Kyle Allen replaced Newton under center, quickly getting things going in his first start with a one-yard touchdown run at the 10:04 mark in the first quarter. He later threw for two touchdowns as Carolina took a 30-0 lead into the fourth quarter. The Saints outscored the Panthers 14-3 in the final quarter, but it obviously wasn’t enough. Allen and the offense didn’t turn the ball over, while the defense forced one turnover. Carolina outgained New Orleans 374-294 in the win.

Allen completed 16 of his 27 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns. He added 19 yards and a touchdown on the ground, but had to leave the game early with a shoulder injury. Cameron Artis-Payne had a pretty solid day on the ground, rushing for 56 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. D.J. Moore led the team in receiving with 81 catches on four catches, but it was Curtis Samuel and Ian Thomas finding the end zone. Colin Jones came up with the game’s lone turnover, an interception of Teddy Bridgewater.