What a wild finish the Falcons and Saints gave us on ‘Thursday Night Football.’ Atlanta escaped with a wild 20-17 win over New Orleans, with incredible mistakes down the stretch.
Final score: Falcons 20, Saints 17
With the Saints driving for the potential tying or winning score down three in the final two minutes, Drew Brees threw an incomplete pass on 3rd & 1 as New Orleans committed a holding penalty. But rather than accept the penalty and push the Saints back 10 yards from a potential 42-yard field goal, Falcons coach Dan Quinn declined the penalty. Brees got the first down on a quarterback sneak one play later, but then Atlanta was bailed out by this incredible Deion Jones interception in the end zone.
Then with the Falcons needing a first down to clinch the game, Saints coach Sean Payton ran on the field to protest what he thought was a bad call after an Atlanta fumble, recovered by the Falcons.
The resulting 15-yard penalty gave Atlanta the first down they needed to clinch the win, and knelt for two plays to seal the victory.
Falcons 20, Saints 17: A third-down sack of Drew Brees by Adrian Clayborn ended a New Orleans drive, then the Falcons took advantage with an 8-play drive ending with a 52-yard field goal by Matt Bryant for Atlanta’s first lead since the first half.
Falcons 17, Saints 17: Atlanta used a methodical drive, taking seven minutes off the clock while driving for the tying score. The Falcons rushed for 37 yards on the drive, but it was Matt Ryan who found Mohamed Sanu for an 8-yard touchdown on 3rd & 4 to tie the score with 10 minutes left.
Third quarter: Saints 17, Falcons 10
Saints 17, Falcons 10: It’s been a rough few game minutes for Matt Ryan, who has thrown three interceptions in his last four passes, ending back-to-back-to-back Atlanta drives. The third one was a forced pass into the end zone intended for Julio Jones, but was an easy grab for New Orleans rookie Marcus Williams.
Ryan entered Thursday with eight interceptions all season. This is his second game with three picks in 2017.
Saints 17, Falcons 10: Atlanta got the ball to start the second half, but for the second straight offensive play Matt Ryan threw an interception. This one was a bizarre pick, off the hands of Austin Hooper and into the armpit of Chris Banjo of the Saints.
New Orleans took advantage, needing only four plays to drive 29 yards, culminating in a 1-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas.
Halftime: Falcons 10, Saints 10
The Falcons tried to get points before the half, but Ryan threw an absolutely brutal interception to Lattimore, who returned it into field goal range. However, the Saints committed a false start on the field goal attempt, triggering a 10-second runoff and ending the half in bizarre fashion.
Falcons 10, Saints 10 The Saints offense has been stuck in mud ever since losing Kamara, but Brees eventually moved them into Falcons territory at the two-minute warning. TommyLee Lewis scored on an impressive 35-yard touchdown, juking a Falcons defender out of his shoes on his way to the end zone.
Falcons 10, Saints 3 Atlanta moved back into enemy territory thanks to a handful of big plays from Jones and Devonta Freeman. After the Falcons stalled at the goal line a few times, Tevin Coleman finally punched it in from 1 yard for the first touchdown of the night.
Michael Thomas got the Saints’ offense recharged with a stunning catch over the Falcons defender, showing off his high-pointing skills. But he couldn’t haul in a third-down pass and New Orleans punted again.
First quarter: Saints 3, Falcons 3
The game slowed down with both teams trading punts until the end of the quarter.
Saints 3, Falcons 3 Julio Jones got the Falcons in business with a 38-yard catch-and-run to the 15, but they couldn’t find the end zone, leading to a 28-yard field goal by Matt Bryant.
Bad news for the Saints early on as Kamara went to the locker room with a concussion.
Saints 3, Falcons 0 The Saints got Kamara involved early on, driving into scoring range with quick efficiency. However, Kamara went to the bench after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit, and New Orleans had to settle for the 34-yard field goal.
Before the game
The New Orleans Saints opened up a commanding lead in the NFC South and look to continue their strong run when they face the Atlanta Falcons in a divisional matchup on Thursday night. The game kicks at 8:25 p.m. ET on NBC and NFL Network (live streams at NBC Sports, Amazon Prime, and FuboTV).
The Saints are coming off a 31-21 win over the Carolina Panthers, moving to 9-3 and completing a season sweep of Carolina (8-4). That gives them the crucial head-to-head tiebreaker in a tight division race, so they essentially have a two-game lead at the moment.
A dominant run game is one of the biggest reasons for the Saints’ turnaround after three straight 7-9 seasons. Alvin Kamara has been a revelation as a rookie, a game-breaking force in both the run and pass. He has 1,220 total yards and 11 touchdowns on the season, really coming into his own after the Saints traded away Adrian Peterson. Mark Ingram has been no slouch himself, racking up 1,177 total yards.
Together, Ingram and Kamara form possibly the most lethal running back duo in the league. Their emergence has done a lot to help Drew Brees, whose arm strength is noticeably declining at age 38.
Brees is still having a great season with 3,298 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 8.1 yards per attempt. But he no longer has to carry the whole load on offense, which has led to a much more balanced, multi-faceted attack for Sean Payton to work with. The defense has also been much improved and should benefit from the return of cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who’s been hobbled by an ankle injury in recent weeks and was seen at practice this week.
The Falcons seemed to be back on track after entering Week 13 on a three-game winning streak, but they fell flat in a 14-9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. That dropped Atlanta to 7-5, which currently leaves them out of a playoff spot. The Panthers and Seattle Seahawks (8-4) are both ahead of the Falcons in the Wild Card picture, so Dan Quinn’s squad is entering must-win territory down the stretch.
Due to the backloaded divisional schedule, these teams will play twice in three weeks, with the rematch coming in Week 16. The Falcons’ playoff hopes are suddenly on the ropes just one year after going to the Super Bowl, so combine that urgency with the intensity of an NFC South grudge match, and this should be one of the better Thursday games of the season.
- We’ve got five reasons you should watch this game.
Alvin Kamara is so damn good at football, and it almost hurts me. In all of my years on this Earth I have been a Falcons fan (not without pain, of course). So to see a kid from here (shoutout Norcross) make NFL defenses shook on a weekly basis for the Saints makes me cringe.
But we’re going to celebrate the young man. Kamara was a third-round selection, and has been so important to the team’s success that Sean Payton is second guessing himself — in a good way.
- The Falcoholic looks at how the Saints and Falcons compare statistically.
This is shaping up to be an old-fashioned shootout, with both teams possessing strong offenses. Atlanta holds the edge on defense, where they’ve been very good against the pass but have struggled against the run. New Orleans, meanwhile, has been exposed at times—particularly on the ground—and could have a difficult time limiting the Falcons passing attack with impressive rookie CB Marshon Lattimore potentially sidelined.
The next time someone suggests that the Patriots, Eagles, or Jaguars have had to battle a tough schedule to get to where they are—not that you’ll hear that suggested often—point out the weakness of their divisions and their schedules. The big battles are happening in the NFC South, and has been the case so often of late, whoever emerges from this division will have a real shot at representing the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Saints blog Canal Street Chronicles offers seven reasons to laugh at the Falcons.
Two franchises, fanbases, and even cities whose hatred for one another go back generations. The Hatfields and McCoys of professional football.
There are plenty of reasons to hate the Falcons. The classless and despicable human being Roddy White, the "Big Ben" play of 1978, the playoff loss of 1991, their fans, Matt Ryan. Every Saints fan knows of these, and undoubtedly you have your own list. I say let's stop the hate. There comes a time to just look at who opposes you, and you realize that all they deserve is to be laughed at.
- The Saints are demolishing teams and doing it with a smile
If there is one thing that stands out about this team, it’s that they are having FUN. Whether it’s Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara doing joint interviews with Deion Sanders, Sean Payton crashing said interview cheesing for the camera, or guys posing for a team picture after a turnover - The 2017 New Orleans Saints are enjoying themselves to the fullest.