The Atlanta Falcons walked onto the stage of Thursday Night Football favored to beat the Saints. Instead, the embarrassment was dumped on the Falcons. Drew Brees and the Saints came away with a 31-21 victory, knocking Atlanta from grace. The loss was the first of the season for the Dirty Birds.
The Saints reached down deep and pulled out a gritty performance that had the Falcons looking like a rather ordinary team. In handing Atlanta its first loss of the season, the Saints proved they may have a losing record (2-4), but they can still hang with the Big Boys of the NFL.
Drew Brees passed for 312 yards and found Ben Watson for 127 of that total. The Saints had jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first half to stun the Falcons. The quick, one-two punch caught the previously undefeated Falcons (5-1) off-guard and they never fully recovered.
Prime-time would be the perfect place to get a win and rejuvenate the New Orleans faithful that still believed. The desperate Saints slapped the Falcons with big plays all night. The bright lights and craziness of the stage seemed to get the Saints going.
According to ESPN, New Orleans has won 19 of their last 21 prime-time games.
Michael Mauti, who grew up near New Orleans after his father, Rich, played for the Saints, blocked a punt and recovered it for a touchdown, delighting the Superdome crowd with a play reminiscent of Steve Gleason’s famous block against Atlanta in 2006. Gleason was at the game, to be honored, and saw the block. He tweeted to his followers.
Saints running back Mark Ingram had 46 yards for the night. But, he scored on two short touchdowns that helped the Saints’ cause.
The Falcons refused to give up. Down 24-7 with 13:07 remaining, Devonta Freeman scored the first of his two touchdowns. That cut the lead to 10 and it looked like the Falcons had a chance to make a comeback. It set the stage for what could be a fifth fourth quarter win for the Dirty Birds.
Drew Brees and the Saints responded with an 11 play 80-yard drive to ice the game and change any thoughts of a comeback victory. The drive ate 5:05 off the clock. The Saints converted a crucial third down, with a 26-yard catch that took the ball down to the Falcon 22 yard-line.
The Saints had also imposed their will on the Falcons with a fourth-and-goal touchdown in the third quarter. The score capped a 63-yard drive that was aided by the Falcons D jumping offside.
The Saints were not picked to win the NFC South. But, they entered 2015 with realistic hopes of making the playoffs. A 1-4 start has put doubts in the minds of the fans and put them on the outskirts looking for a postseason ticket.
Coming off their worst loss of the season — a 39-17 beat-down by the Philadelphia Eagles — the Saints defense was looking horrendous. They gave up 519 total yards to the Eagles. Thursday night’s game looked like a sure win for the Falcons.
After that loss to the Eagles, head coach Sean Payton was livid. Safety Kenny Vaccaro remembered the rant, per The Times-Picayune.
“He was just like this whole speech about just take a look in the mirror, everybody, coaches, players, everybody and get it corrected,” Vaccaro said. “He wants to see the leaders on this team step up in times like this and get us out of this hole. That’s what it’s gonna take. Somebody.”
[Feature Photo by Sean Gardener / Getty Images]