No Matt Ryan? No Michael Turner for the Falcons? No problem for the Saints, right?
The Falcons gave the Saints all they could handle in a thrilling 26-23 game that was not decided until the final seconds. Saints LB Jonathan Vilma made two key defensive plays to seal the win, including a huge tackle on Falcons RB Jason Snelling on fourth down to end Atlanta’s final drive.
The Falcons offensive line played well all game and gave the Falcons a chance for the upset of the year. They opened holes in the Saints defensive line all game and gave QB Chris Redman enough time in the pocket to pick apart the Saints secondary. Redman finished the game 23-34 passing with 303 yds passing, a TD and an INT late in the game.
Atlanta dominated the first quarter, holding the ball for over ten minutes and gaining 125 yards on their first two drives for a 6-3 lead.
The Saints bounced back in the second quarter with two exceptional drives, capped by two Drew Brees touchdown passes. Brees looked masterful on those drives as he completed 12 straight passes without a miss. His 6 yard strike to Reggie Bush in the second quarter gave the Saints their first lead of the game. He followed that drive with a 3 yard touchdown pass to Marques Colston for a 16-6 lead. Atlanta drove for a late field goal to cut the Saints lead to 16-9 at the half.
The Saints came back marching in the third quarter, finishing the opening drive with another score. Facing 3rd and 19 from the Atlanta 21, the Saints called a screen play to Reggie Bush on an Atlanta blitz. Bush walked in untouched for his second score of the game, putting the Saints ahead 23-9.
The Falcons offense came alive and tied the game on two touchdown drives. Chris Redman found a streaking Michael Jenkins for a 50 yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter. The Saints came on a double corner blitz on the play, leaving Jenkins open down the field for the score. Jason Snelling scored on a short run early in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 23.
However, the Saints would not be denied this afternoon. Drew Brees once again masterfully lead the offense to points. The drive, a 16 play – 63 yard drive which took up over 8 minutes of the fourth quarter, ended with Garret Hartley’s 38 yard game winner. Jonathan Vilma and the rest of the defense took over the game from there. Vilma ended the ensuing Falcons drive with his second fourth quarter interception in two weeks. A missed fake field goal attempt by the Saints gave the Falcons one last chance to rally. Again Vilma would not be denied, stopping a short Redman pass to Snelling on fourth down short by about a yard.
Drew Brees had another stellar game for the Saints, completing 31 of 40 passes for 296 yards and 3 touchdowns. His third quarter touchdown pass to Reggie Bush was his 120th as a Saint, tying him with Aaron Brooks for the top spot in franchise history.
With the win, the Saints clinched at least a first round bye in the playoffs.
The Falcons have plenty to worry about..injuries to key players and fast fading playoff hopes. But on this afternoon, they gave the Saints all they could handle.