Saints Top Falcons, Improve To 9-2
The New Orleans Saints (9-2) beat the Atlanta Falcons (2-9) Thursday night by the score of 17-13, grinding out a victory, and earning a season sweep of their arch rivals.
Coming off a physical win over the San Francisco 49ers four days earlier, New Orleans was short handed, missing All-Pro guard Jahri Evans (ankle, knee) and running back Darren Sproles (ankle) to name a few. However, the Saints leaned heavily on their defense to get out of Georgia with a win.
Saints defensive end Cam Jordan (pictured) wreaked havoc on a depleted Falcons offensive line, earning 2.5 sacks, 4 QB hits, and 6 tackles. Fellow DE Akiem Hicks finished with 1.5 sacks, 2 QB hits, and 8 tackles. As a team, the Saints sacked Atlanta QB Matt Ryan 5 times, and held the Falcons to less than 100 yards rushing.
New Orleans only scored 3 points in the second half, but pitched a shutout in the final two quarters to help preserve a crucial victory.
Jordan sacked Ryan with 2:24 left in the 4th quarter, forcing Atlanta to attempt a 52-yard rather than attempt a 4th and 14. With 3 timeouts left, Falcons coach Mike Smith liked his odds. Saints coach Sean Payton called a timeout on the FG attempt. Kicker Matt Bryant's FG sailed through the uprights, but due to the timeout, he had to attempt it again. He missed. With the ball back, the Saints ran the clock down to 5 seconds, before the Falcons failed on a last play attempt to score.
It wasn't the Saints best offensive performance by any stretch, but when it counted, Drew Brees and company got it done. Brees became the 5th leading passer in NFL history on the night (49,566), surpassing Warren Moon (49,325 yards). He found both of his tight ends for touchdowns in the first half.
Benjamin Watson reeled in a 1 yard TD catch late in the first quarter on 3rd and goal, while All-Pro Jimmy Graham scored on a 44 yard catch and run in the second. It gave the Saints a 14-13 lead at the time, a lead they would never relinquish. Graham finished with 5 catches for 100 yards and a score.
Saints running back Pierre Thomas (pictured) was the standout on offense. As he has in the past, Thomas made huge plays versus the Falcons, both on the ground and through the air. Thomas rushed for 73 yards on only 10 carries, and caught 5 passes for 57. Several of his receptions came on 3rd down, reminding the league that there is no better running back at executing the screen.
"He's one of those players that does a lot of thing well," said Saints head coach Sean Payton of Thomas. "He's versatile, he hit some big screen passes...he's got good balance."
With a Thursday night win, the Saints now get extra rest before playing on the road in 11 days for a huge Monday night matchup against the Seattle Seahawks (10-1). First place in the NFC will be on the line, as Seattle is currently on a bye week.
"We're going to continue to take it one game at a time, and not look too far ahead the game that's right in front of us," said Brees. "That one is Monday night football at Seattle. It doesn't get any bigger and better than that."