The Saints and Falcons played a classic game in their rivalry, one that was put to bed once and for all thanks to a Sean Payton penalty.
The Saints were driving down 20-17, and it appeared that at the very worst they’d be coming away with a game-tying field goal. When Drew Brees has the ball late with timeouts, good things typically happen.
Instead, Deion Jones picked off Drew Brees in the end zone, giving the Falcons the ball with 1:25.
CLUTCH GENE, ENGAGE!@debo with an UNREAL interception! #InBrotherhood#NOvsATL pic.twitter.com/s5ri1lx3BL— NFL (@NFL) December 8, 2017
The Saints were down, but not quite out.
Then, Payton’s unsportsmanlike penalty happened.
The Saints could have gotten the ball back with very little time had they stopped the Falcons, but after a Devonta Freeman fumble was recovered by the Falcons, Sean Payton ran out onto the field for a timeout with 1:05 left.
The abruptness combined with the distance Payton ran onto the field, officials called a penalty that wound up giving the Falcons a first down to seal the game.
The Saints called a timeout, but Matt Ryan and the Falcons were able to take two knees to end the game from their own 39.
After the game, Payton said via ProFootballTalk, “I called a time out and then he asked me again and I said ‘I’ve already called the time out.’ Probably said it with a little more oomph or vigor than I was supposed to (but) I had enough. I got to be smarter than that.”
The NFL looked into the incident, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, and Payton eventually received a fine:
The NFL has fined #Saints coach Sean Payton and #Seahawks coach Pete Carroll $10,000 each for improperly entering the playing field during recent games, I'm told.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) December 15, 2017
Penalties hurt the Saints all night.
Payton’s penalty is going to be the one that resonates as a killer, but the Saints shot themselves in the foot all night.
The Saints had more offensive first downs than the Falcons with 18 compared to Atlanta’s 17. However, the difference came in first downs from penalties — New Orleans had zero, and Atlanta had nine.
The Saints had 11 penalties on the night, with those adding up to 87 yards. The Falcons had three turnovers compared to the Saints’ one, but those second chances that the Saints gave ended up making a bigger impact.
It ended it, but Payton’s wasn’t the biggest penalty of the game.
The other most notable came on a field goal attempt right before the half. After a Marshon Lattimore interception, the Saints attempted a kick from the Falcons’ 29-yard line.
But thanks to an illegal formation, it didn’t count, and it ended up being the difference in the game.
The NFL rulebook (4.8.2b) reads:
If there is a foul by the offense, there shall be no extension of the period. If the foul occurs on the last play of the half, a score by the offense is not counted.
There’s been plenty of 10-second runoff instances this season, but this didn’t fall under that umbrella. The clock hit triple-zero, and the Saints were out of luck.
Injuries also didn’t do the Saints any favors.
Their injuries seemed endless, with the biggest coming to rookie running back Alvin Kamara on the very first possession of the game.
Outside of Kamara, linebacker A.J. Klein, defensive end Trey Hendrickson, safety Kenny Vaccaro, and guard Senio Kelemete suffered injuries. Even wide receiver Michael Thomas and Mark Ingram had at least been shaken up at some point during the game.
It didn’t draw quite the same reaction, but reminded us of the Seahawks’ game against the Cardinals just under a month ago on Thursday night.
The loss puts the Saints at 9-4, and the Falcons now right behind them at 8-5 with a chance to defend their title as NFC South champions. The two teams will face off again in New Orleans on Christmas Eve.