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New Orleans Saints second half surge comes up short, fall in season finale to Falcons

The Saints had an abysmal showing on defense in the first half, which was all the Falcons need to pick up a victory.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints closed out their 2016 campaign and brought in the new year with a loss to the Atlanta Falcons in their final appearance at the Georgia Dome. Unfortunately, they lost 38-32 to turn in their third straight 7-9 finish.

The black and gold started with the ball first, but quickly turned in a 3-and-out. It didn’t take the Matt Ryan and the Falcons long to punch it into the end zone, as Tevin Coleman would score first on a four-play drive. The Saints would counter with a long 15-play, 74-yard drive of their own that took over 8 minutes. It should have ended with a Coby Fleener touchdown, but we still don’t know what a catch is today in the NFL.

After the Wil Lutz field goal cut it to 7-3, the Falcons would need just one play to hit paydirt again, as Devonta Freeman would run wild for a 75-yard touchdown. On the Falcons’ first five plays of the game, they were averaging 28.6 yards per play. The Saints offense would muster a short drive of their own to answer with a Tim Hightower rushing touchdown to cut the deficit to 14-10.

However, the Falcons needed just four plays to get back into the end zone to go up 21-10. Somehow, Roman Harper was left to cover Julio Jones, which drew a 46-yard pass interference penalty, and the Falcons would start the 2nd Quarter on a touchdown fade to Jones over B.W. Webb. All three of the Falcons scoring possessions took less than three minutes each.

After a lackluster Saints possession, the Falcons would use 10 plays to go 76 yards to extend their lead to 28-10 after Ryan found Mohamed Sanu for a 10-yard touchdown. The Saints offense would continue finding some success, but had to settle for a 40-yard field goal from Lutz after going 53 yards on 7 plays to cut it to 28-13. In the process of it all, rookie Michael Thomas went over 1,000 yards receiving for the year.

The Saints defense showed little to no resistance on the ensuing drive, as the Falcons offense stayed red-hot. Ryan and company went over the 300-yard mark of total offense on the 9-play, 70-yard drive. It ended with Ryan finding Justin Hardy for a 7-yard catch to put the Falcons up 35-13. The Falcons ended the half with 323 yards of offense, going 3-for-3 on third down, and averaging 11.5 yards per play.

A rare stop by the Saints to open the second half made the Falcons punt. On the very first play of the drive, Brees went over 5,000 passing yards for the season after connecting with Willie Snead for a 20-yard gain. The drive ended with Thomas Morstead having to punt and the Saints pinning the Falcons inside their own 1-yard line, but Ryan would narrowly evade a Cameron Jordan sack to find Jones to give them breathing room. Dan Quinn kept the offense aggressive, but they weren’t able to cap off the 99-yard drive and settled for a 22-yard Matt Bryant field goal to extend their lead to 38-13.

Another 3-and-out by the Saints gave the Falcons offense back the ball, and Matt Ryan was still in the game hunting for 5,000 yards. The Falcons drive would eventually stall out, and the Saints would turn in a 7-play, 89-yard drive that took 2:11 to cut the lead to 38-19 after Brees hooked up with Michael Thomas for his 9th touchdown of the year. On the drive, Thomas set franchise rookie records by surpassing Marques Colston in touchdown receptions and Donte Stallworth in touchdown catches. The Saints would fail their two-point attempt.

After holding the Falcons again to a punt, a promising drive by the Saints would end with a Drew Brees interception in the end zone, courtesy of Jalen Collins. Michael Thomas ended up surpassing Reggie Bush’s rookie reception record by hauling in his 89th catch of the season on the drive.

Dennis Allen’s defense forced another 3-and-out, and the Saints finally fed Mark Ingram with the game out of reach. He became the first Saints running back since Deuce McAllister (2006) to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time in his career. The way he did it was very Ingram-like fashion, as he rattled off a 38-yard scamper. The Saints would give it to Ingram to cap off the drive, which cut the lead to 38-25.

As meaningless as it sounds, the team had the first combination of a 5,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher, and two 1,000-yard receivers for the first time since the Broncos in 2013. The biggest difference? Denver went 13-3.

The Saints would get the ensuing onside kick to make things a little interesting with less than 3 minutes to play, and would punch it in with less than a minute to go as Brees found Travaris Cadet to make it 38-32. The onside kick would go to the Falcons, who ran out the clock.