The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints continue their heated rivalry in Week 14 on Thursday Night Football. This was the 96th regular season matchup between these two division rivals, with the Falcons leading the all-time series 50-45 and gaining wins in their last two meetings. This first meeting between these two franchises will be an important one in the playoff race and the race to win the division.
The last time these two teams met, the Falcons offense rolled in the first half, scoring 35 points on their way to clinching a first-round bye with their 38-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints. In that game, quarterback Matt Ryan broke the franchise record for most passing yards in a season.
Tonight’s match went the distance as defense from both sides were the highlight of the game. Neither side was especially impressive on offense, especially the Falcons’ Matt Ryan. Ryan threw for 221-yards and a touchdown but threw an extremely ugly three interceptions. The only two touchdowns of the night came from wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and running back Devonta Freeman. Freeman also led the team with 98-yards on the ground.
The two Saints touchdowns came from receivers Tommylee Lewis and Michael Thomas, who had over 100-yards receiving. Former Notre Dame standout Manti Te’o held down their defense with eight tackles.
The Falcons defense put a complete stop to the Saints’ run game, holding running back Mark Ingram to a mere 49-yards on 12 carries. Linebacker Deion Jones anchored the defense with seven tackles and an interception. He was also responsible for the hit that took Saints running back Alvin Kamara out of the game (he was later diagnosed with a concussion).
The Falcons weren’t playing all that good, to begin with, but as the old saying goes, “It’s better to be lucky than good.” That leads me to the second half of the story: Luck.
The Saints racked up a staggering 11 penalties for 87-yards. Now the Falcons don’t get off scot-free because they had four themselves, but four isn’t eleven, and that’s not even the end of it. That aforementioned Deion Jones interception was in the end zone, Falcons kicker Matt Bryant had to nail a 52-yard field goal, and Saints head coach Sean Payton stepped onto the field (to attempt to call timeout) which drew a penalty. That penalty flag gave Atlanta the first down and ended the game.
So even with all of that luck, the Falcons just skirted by with a 20-17 victory over New Orleans. With almost a 100-yards in penalties, a clutch field goal, a clutch interception, and a penalty on the opposing team’s head coach, they still won by three points. But when it came to the Falcons struggles this season, head coach Dan Quinn begged to differ. “I don’t think of it in that way. I understand where you’re leading with that, but it’s the connection with the team” said coach Quinn. “Most important to me is the connection they have with one another. Whether special teams needs a boost offensively or defensively, that’s the connection I look for amongst the team. I just had a sense that this one would go all the way down to the end.”
With the Falcons now 8-5, they can head down the final stretch of the regular season as a legitimate contender for an NFC Wild Card spot. Theif final two away games are next week against the Buccaneers and a quick turnaround to New Orleans for a rematch with the Saints. New Year’s Eve will be their final regular season game, at home, against the Carolina Panthers.
Photo: Hakim Wright