The New Orleans Saints beat division rival the Atlanta Falcons to remain in contention for one of the wildcard playoff spots in the NFC South. Although they will need help to get in, the Saints are now 7 and 6, following their loss last week to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Atlanta beat New Orleans earlier this season, 34 to 20.
The primary factor in the victory was a strong ground game as the Saints outrushed the Falcons 184 to 99 yards, a season high, gaining 6.1 yards per rush. Saints RB Pierre Thomas, originally undrafted from Illinois, had a phenomenal day, becoming the first 100-yard rusher this season for the team with 102 yards and two touchdowns.
Saints QB Drew Brees had a good day, going 18 for 32 for 230 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions. The last time the two teams played, Brees had 422 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions. Falcons QB Matt Ryan also played well, finishing with 24 for 33 for 315 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The interception by Saints CB Jason David in the first quarter was one of the rare flaws in Ryan’s play and was only his seventh of the season.
New Orleans scored first with a five-yard touchdown pass to RB Reggie Bush midway through the first quarter, following the interception by Jason David. The first play of the drive was an electrifying 43-yard run by Bush, his longest of the game. Bush finished with 80 yards on the ground and three catches for 26 yards.
The second quarter was an exchange of field goals for touchdowns. The Saints started with a 26-yard field goal early in the second to cap off a 10 play drive. The Falcons answered back on their next possession as Matt Ryan scrambled to avoid a sack and threw a 59-yard pass to WR Roddy White outside of the pocket, setting up a five-yard rush by RB Michael Turner to go into the end zone for the touchdown. The Saints followed with a 46-yard field goal. Ryan then threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to WR Brian Finneran. Saints K Garrett Hartley proved to be reliable again as the Saints hit their third field goal of the quarter, this time from 25 yards as the quarter ended.
Saints Coach Sean Payton had thrown two challenges in the first half, which eliminated the possibility of throwing a challenge in the second half and left them with no timeouts with 2:13 left in the second quarter. The Saints had to go for the field goal from the 7 yard line as there was only 4 seconds left.
The third quarter was a different story as the only score was a 23-yard field goal by the Falcons with three minutes to play in the third quarter. The field goal capped off a long drive by the Falcons of 15 plays that ate up over nine minutes of the clock. The drive included three third-down conversions, including one third and 21 that became a first down when Ryan threw a 26-yard pass to Roddy White.
New Orleans and especially RB Pierre Thomas came alive in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns compared to one touchdown for Atlanta. Brees threw a 7-yard pass to Thomas for the first touchdown with 13 minutes left. New Orleans went for two points but failed when Bush could not get the ball over the over the line.
Atlanta had better success when they scored following a 12-yard scramble by Ryan into the end zone. Ryan threw a short pass to WR Michael Jenkins for the two-point conversion.
Thomas then received the kick and ran 88 yards to set up his second touchdown of the day a five yard run on a drive that included the Saints going for it on fourth and one from Atlanta’s seven yard line. Thomas also ran for 23 total yards on the Saints final drive to keep the ball in New Orleans’ hands as time expired.
Atlanta WR Roddy White had 164 yards in the game. The leading Saint receiver was Devery Henderson with 72 yards.
Some interesting notes in the game: RB Deuce McAllister, whose league suspension was overturned this week by a federal judge had one rush on third and one from the Atlanta 8 yard line but could not convert. Both teams finished with 414 yards of offense. This was the first time that the Saints have won under Payton when the team is trailing going into the fourth quarter.
New Orleans will face Chicago on Thursday while Atlanta will play against Tampa Bay.