On Thanksgiving, the New Orleans Saints (9-2) went on the road to face off against the Atlanta Falcons (3-8). With Julio Jones out, the Saints were looking to make the most of their opportunity. New Orleans was able to win the game 26-18, improving its record to 10-2. They were able to clinch the NFC South division title for the third consecutive year.
The Saints set the tone early when Marcus Davenport sacked Matt Ryan on the very first play of the game. After the Saints defense forced a three-and-out, Taysom Hill blocked the punt, giving his team the ball at the Atlanta 30-yard line.
After moving the ball downfield, the Saints scored on a jet-action touch pass from Drew Brees to Taysom Hill, who then ran it in for a touchdown. That play put the Saints up 7-0 early in the first quarter.
The rest of the quarter didn’t see a whole lot of action. A player or two from each team got a little chippy, resulting in a few personal foul penalties. After some big chunk plays and a long pass interference call on Eli Apple, Atlanta was in a great position to score heading into the second quarter.
Atlanta was unsuccessful on their first three attempts near the goal line. However, the head coach, Dan Quinn, decided to go for it on fourth and one from the two-yard line. They were unable to convert and turned it over on downs. On Atlanta’s next possession, Matt Ryan threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Jaeden Graham. It was Graham’s first career touchdown, but unfortunately for the Falcons, Younghoe Koo missed the extra point. It was now a 7-6 Saints lead.
When New Orleans got the ball back, Drew Brees led the offense downfield. Brees completed a 40-yard pass to Jared Cook, which set the Saints up with a first-and-goal. On third and goal, Brees threw a four-yard pass to Cook, but it went right through his hands, forcing his team to settle for three points. Will Lutz made a 22-yard field goal to give his team a lead of 10-6.
The Falcons were able to get back in field goal range on their next drive. However, they were unable to capitalize when Koo missed a 42-yard kick.
After getting the ball back, Brees found Cook again for a 29 yard gain, moving the ball into Atlanta territory after one play. To cap off the drive, Taysom Hill burst through the middle for a 30-yard touchdown on a quarterback-designed run. That run was his second touchdown of the game and the second-longest run of his career. The Saints were now leading 17-6 with less than two minutes remaining in the half.
The Falcons were able to get in field goal range before the end of the half. Younghoe Koo made his first kick of the game after two misses, closing the gap to 17-9 at halftime in favor of New Orleans.
After trading a couple of punts to open the second half, the Saints were finally able to get a good drive going. It ended in a 47-yard field goal by Will Lutz to make it 20-9 with his team still out in front.
Saints defensive lineman, Shy Tuttle, was able to tip and intercept Matt Ryan with one hand. On the return, Tuttle puts a massive stiff arm on Ryan while returning the ball deep into Falcons territory. However, the return was brought back when Cam Jordan was called for an illegal block in the back. The drive was halted with an intentional grounding call on Drew Brees, and the Saints were forced to punt.
Early in the fourth quarter, Saints rookie cornerback, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, recorded his first career interception, giving his team an excellent starting field position at the Falcons 29-yard line. The Saints failed to pick up a first down, once again relying on Will Lutz, who made a 42-yard field goal. With Lutz’s third field goal of the night, the Saints now held a 23-9 lead.
When the Falcons got the ball back, they failed to protect their quarterback. Cam Jordan sacked Matt Ryan, and two plays later were sacked again by Marcus Davenport, who was able to force a fumble. Safety Vonn Bell recovered the fumble, putting his team in a great position to win the game. The two sacks on the drive were the second sack of the game for both Jordan and Davenport, bringing the team total to five. It was also Matt Ryan’s third turnover of the night.
The fumble recovery led to another field goal by Will Lutz, his fourth of the night, his second kick from 45 yards. This kick put the Saints up 26-9, giving them an almost insurmountable lead with less than seven minutes to go.
The Onside Kicks Begin
Despite being down by three scores, Matt Ryan and company would not give up. After marching down the field, Matt Ryan threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Russell Gage, the first of Gage’s young career. After failing the two-point conversion, the Saints were leading 26-15 with 3:26 remaining in the game.
The Falcons were able to recover their onside kick, but a member of the kickoff team was offsides, resulting in a five-yard penalty, forcing them to attempt another onside kick. Fortunately for Atlanta, they were able to recover it once again. The odds of having the perfect onside kick twice in a row is nearly impossible, but the Falcons pulled it off.
Craig Robertson sacked Matt Ryan on the next play, giving New Orleans six sacks in the game. Matt Ryan, not wasting any time, methodically drove the ball downfield. After the two minute warning, Younghoe Koo kicked a 43-yard field goal on second down to make it a one-possession game. This would bring the score to 26-18.
Atlanta would need to recover a third consecutive onside kick to have a chance in this game. Already attempting two and recovering both, despite one being called back by penalty, the odds were not in Atlanta’s favor. Surprisingly, Atlanta was able to recover another onside kick, giving them the ball with enough time to score to tie the game.
Cameron Jordan sacked Matt Ryan on first down, his third of the night and a few plays later, Sheldon Rankins sacked Ryan, the team’s seventh and eighth sacks of the night. Both sacks forced Atlanta to burn a timeout.
Atlanta’s Comeback Sacked
It was now fourth down and eight yards to go from the New Orleans 44-yard line with 44 seconds remaining in the game. The Falcons needed to convert this fourth down to have any chance of tying the game. However, Cam Jordan was able to shut down those hopes, sacking Ryan for the fourth time of the night, ending Atlanta’s dreams of completing the improbable comeback.
Drew Brees finished the game going 18 for 30 with 184 yards and a touchdown. Alvin Kamara carries the ball 11 times for 61 yards in addition to four catches for 23 yards. Jared Cook had a great game, tallying three catches and 85 yards.
However, the real spark plug of the night was the jack-of-all-trades, Taysom Hill. Hill was able to rush for 33 yards and a touchdown on two carries while also catching two passes for 12 yards another touchdown and blocking a punt. Michael Thomas finished the game with six catches for 48 yards.
Matt Ryan completed 35 of 50 passes for 312 yards, two touchdowns, and ran for 21 yards on three carries. Ryan threw two interceptions and lost a fumble to bring his turnover total to three on the night.
Devonta Freeman ran for 51 yards on 17 attempts and caught four passes for 13 yards. Some young receivers on the Atlanta offense had impressive outings with the absence of Julio Jones.
Calvin Ridley caught eight passes for 91 yards, Russell Gage caught five balls for 52 yards, and tight end Jaeden Graham had four receptions for 41 yards.
However, the biggest surprise of the night for Atlanta was undrafted, second-year receiver Kristian Blake, who caught a career-high six passes for 57 yards.
The Saints defense had a field day, sacking Matt Ryan nine times. Cameron Jordan had four sacks to go along with Marcus Davenport’s two.
Saints Michael Thomas Record Watch
With six catches on the night, Michael Thomas brings his season total to 110, the most by any player through their team’s first 12 games in a season. Marvin Harrison had 109 receptions through the Colts’ first 12 games back in 2002. Thomas is slowly, but surely working his way toward the all-time single-season receptions record of 143, held by Harrison. He is now on pace for 147 catches in 2019.
Week 14 Preview
The Saints (10-2) will now have ten days off to rest and prepare for their week 14 matchup at home against the San Francisco 49ers (10-1). The 49ers will be playing the Ravens on Sunday. With a playoff berth clinched, New Orleans will be looking to gain home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Their game next week against San Francisco will have significant playoff implications. The winner of that game will be atop the NFC and would strengthen their chances of clinching home-field advantage.
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