The 100th edition of the bitter Saints-Falcons feud turned into a Thanksgiving celebration for the New Orleans Saints and their fans in front of a national audience. New Orleans bludgeoned their longtime rivals to win their tenth consecutive game. The game was close statistically, but the Saints maintained control throughout the game, taking a 17-3 lead into the halftime break and cruising to a 31-17 victory. Drew Brees did throw his second interception of the season, but also threw four touchdown passes in another deadly efficient performance. Michael Thomas caught four first half passes, but the team's complimentary targets stepped up, even without Tre'Quan Smith in the lineup. Brees' scoring tosses went to Tommylee Lewis, Dan Arnold, Austin Carr, and Keith Kirkwood, all undrafted coming out of college. Although the Saints offensive line did allow their first sack in four games, they controlled the Atlanta front seven, paving the way for 150 rushing yards. The New Orleans defense allowed just 26 yards on the ground, forced four turnovers, and sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan six times, harassing him all evening. The Saints secondary did give up 23 receptions and 314 receiving yards to the Falcons talented threesome of Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohamed Sanu, but came up with a few game changing big plays in the red zone. Safety Marcus Williams had a key sack, fumble, and recovery to end Atlanta's first scoring drive. Marshon Lattimore, Eli Apple, P.J. Williams, and Vonn Bell provided physical coverage all evening, and together accounted for two fumbles forced and two recoveries near the New Orleans goal line. With no Saints football this Sunday, let's have some Thanksgiving football leftovers and hand out game balls for another solid team performance.
Cameron Jordan added another chapter of dominance against the Falcons throughout his career. Jordan had 2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, and 3 quarterback hits on Thursday night, continually destroying the right side of their line. In sixteen career games against Atlanta, Jordan now has 12 sacks and 28 total hits on their quarterback. He had a game indicative of his season, one that almost surely has him headed to his second straight All-Pro recognition.
Coming into this game, it looked like Atlanta might have trouble matching up with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram without their best defensive player, linebacker Deion Jones. The two backs combined for 141 rushing yards on 25 carries, led by Kamara's 89 yards. He exploded for 18 yards on the game's opening play, and consistently slashed his way through the Falcons defense for key yardage. Kamara's versatile talents and gamebreaking skills were undeniable last year when he won the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year. He has gone on to prove this season that he is capable of filling the role as a top every down back, capable of picking up tough yards inside the tackles.
Rankins continued his monstrous season, getting immediate penetration into the Falcons backfield numerous times to derail a running play or put pressure on Ryan. He finished with just two tackles, but both were for losses, including 1 sack. The Saints first round pick in 2016 also had a number of other pressures on during the game, flushing Ryan into a sack by a teammate. Rankins is having the best season of his career by far, and is finally being mentioned among the best interior linemen in the league.
This may not be the second coming of The Dome Patrol, but it is almost certainly the best linebacking unit that the Saints have had in decades. Demario Davis, Alex Anzalone, and A.J. Klein combined for 16 tackles (2 for loss), 1 sack (Davis), 2 forced fumbles (Anzalone, Davis), and an interception (Klein). The linebackers complimented the standout play of their defensive line in making the Atlanta running attack nonexistent, holding them to just 1.6 yards per carry. Once a team weakness often exploited by teams such as Atlanta, these linebackers have become one of the Saints' many strengths, and the most improved unit on the team.
The Saints now sit at 10-1, currently holding the top seed in the conference and a three game lead in the NFC South. The winning streak is the second longest in franchise history, and has New Orleans mentioned as one of the primary Super Bowl favorites heading into the home stretch of the season. The Saints cannot afford a letdown however, with no margin for error and perhaps the league's toughest schedule over the final five games. Next up are the NFC East leading Dallas Cowboys, who are on a win streak of their own. Despite the daunting schedule ahead of them, New Orleans seems well equipped to handle the challenge. Thursday night was another complete performance, a domination of a despised rival, and Thanksgiving dessert to an excited fanbase.
Who had the best performance in the Saints Thanksgiving night win over Atlanta?
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