METAIRIE — It might have been the most important NFC South matchup between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. Needless to say, Sean Payton’s team delivered inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and improved to 11-4 on the year to secure a postseason spot.
The Saints deferred the opening kickoff, and the crowd was in it from the start waiving their white rally towels. After forcing the Falcons first offensive drive to stall, the Saints would go on an 8-play, 40-yard drive to get the game’s first points after Wil Lutz connected on a 40-yard field goal.
The teams traded drives, and in the process the Falcons managed to have a 1st and 40 at one point in the the first half. The Saints would tack on a field goal after stalling deep inside their own territory to extend their lead to 6-0.
Late in the half, the Falcons looked to be driving, but a ‘buttception’ happened when Marshon Lattimore kept the ball on his hind parts and hauled it in to intercept Matt Ryan. The Saints would take advantage, as Drew Brees connected with Ted Ginn. Jr. for a 54-yard score to put the black and gold up 13-0 before the half.
Fast forward to the second half, and it looked like Atlanta was poised to take it in in a goal to go situation after Brees was picked off by Deion Jones from a bobbled Ginn catch. Disaster struck, as Devonta Freeman was stripped by Tyeler Davison (recovered by Manti Te’o) to give the ball back to New Orleans.
The Falcons would eventually find the scoreboard, after a 7-play, 29-yard drive after stopping the Saints on the ensuing possession, courtesy of a Matt Bryant 37-yard field goal. The Saints would threaten late in the third quarter, thanks to good field position set up by a late hit out of bounds to Tommylee Lewis on a punt return. It’d take just four plays for New Orleans to find the end zone, as Mark Ingram had a 26-yard touchdown run to put the Saints up 20-3.
The Falcons looked to answer right back with a drive of their own, set up by a big 44-yard connection from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones. However, they’d face a 4th and Goal after what looked to be a very close Jones touchdown grab. Freeman would be stuffed by Hau’oli Kikaha and Ken Crawley, which gave the Saints the ball on downs.
Unfortunately, they weren’t able to do much with it except run the clock down a little more. A good punt return by the Falcons put them across midfield. It’d take them five plays to get a 48-yard Matt Bryant field goal to cut the Saints’ lead to 20-6.
A late Saints drive ended with another Wil Lutz field goal, as he converted from 45 yards out to extend the team’s lead to 23-6. The Falcons would once again threaten, and cash in this time with Tevin Coleman taking it in to cut the lead to 23-13.
However, the Saints would end up closing out the Falcons, earning their first playoff berth since 2013. Cam Jordan’s big 2-sack game saw him reach 12 total for the season.