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4 things we learned from Falcons’ comeback 20-17 win over Saints

The Falcons keep their playoff hopes alive with a gutsy win over their NFC South rivals.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons kept their season alive with a comeback win over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night, getting the 20-17 victory after scoring 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

The game started off slowly, and New Orleans got bad news right off the bat when red-hot rookie Alvin Kamara left the game with a concussion. There were no touchdowns until the second quarter when Devonta Freeman ran one in from 1 yard. New Orleans answered back with an impressive catch-and-run by Tommylee Lewis, and the teams entered halftime tied at 10-10 after a bizarre end of the half when a Saints field goal got taken off the board by an obscure rule.

The Saints took a 17-10 lead in the third quarter after Michael Thomas and Drew Brees hooked up for a touchdown. Matt Ryan struggled for most of the night with three interceptions, but he bounced back in time to lead a game-tying drive, capped by an 8-yard touchdown strike to Mohamed Sanu. New Orleans’ offense couldn’t get out of first gear, and Atlanta eventually took the lead with a 52-yard field goal by Matt Bryant.

Brees drove the Saints into field goal range at the end of the game and went for a touchdown, but he threw an interception to Deion Jones instead, essentially icing the game.

4 things we learned

1. The Saints’ offense needs Alvin Kamara

Kamara was heavily involved on the game’s first drive, making three catches for 25 yards and looking like he was in for another huge night. Unfortunately, he suffered a concussion on that drive and never came back into the game. The Saints’ offense went into neutral at that point and did almost nothing of note in the second half while the Falcons mounted their comeback.

Kamara is not just a great running back — he’s crucial to the Saints’ offensive identity. Without him, Mark Ingram couldn’t get going as the featured back, and Brees’ declining arm strength was particularly noticeable. If there’s any good news, it’s that Kamara has 10 days to get cleared in time for the New York Jets in Week 15.

2. Marshon Lattimore is back, but it wasn’t enough

Returning from an ankle injury, Lattimore made his presence felt in the second quarter, picking off Ryan with one of the easiest interceptions he’ll have all season.

The Defensive Rookie of the Year contender gave Julio Jones all he could handle, but Jones still ended up with 98 yards on five catches. The Saints’ defense played well for the most part, but without the offense being able to sustain drives, they were clearly gassed in the fourth quarter while the Falcons came from behind.

3. Unforced errors almost ruined the Falcons’ night

Not all of Ryan’s three interceptions were his fault. For example, Austin Hooper couldn’t haul in the catch here, which ended up in the hands of a Saints defender.

But the other two interceptions were definitely Ryan’s fault — the first one was brutal, thrown right to Lattimore. The third of the night was forced into double coverage with Jones having no shot of making the catch.

It’s a credit to the Falcons that they were able to get the win despite such crippling mistakes, but this isn’t going to work every week. They still have a ways to go if they hope to make another run in January.

4. The NFC South race isn’t over yet

The Saints had a chance to put the Falcons away for good and open up a strong lead in the division, but it wasn’t to be. They fall to 9-4 and are still ahead of the Carolina Panthers (8-4) with a rematch against the Falcons coming in just two weeks. This loss probably ends whatever hope they had of home-field advantage in the NFC.

Meanwhile, the Falcons improved to 8-5 and are still alive in the Wild Card race, though they remain behind the Panthers and Seattle Seahawks (both 8-4). Atlanta does own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Seattle, so it’ll be hoping that the Seahawks lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. The NFC playoff field is wide open at this point.

Let's just cancel ‘Thursday Night Football’