It felt good eliminating the Atlanta Falcons from the NFC South divisional crown.
The Saints were in control from the opening kickoff, but that didn’t mean it was an absolutely perfect game. There were still a few “Ups” and “Downs” along the way. Here are a few that stood out:
Up: Saints secondary receivers
Brandon Marshall has yet to make his 2018 debut with the Saints and rookie Tre’Quan Smith was inactive this week with a foot injury. On top of that, Michael Thomas was largely held in check by the Falcons, only hauling in four catches for 38 yards.
But the Saints still caught four touchdown passes, on the back of four undrafted free agents: Austin Carr, Dan Arnold, Tommylee Lewis, and Keith Kirkwood.
Tommylee Lewis scored in his first game since being activated from IR, on a largely uncontested deep route. Austin Carr was even more wide open - as wide open as you can be - for his touchdown. Dan Arnold caught a touchdown, but also had a potential touchdown broken up earlier in the game. Keith Kirkwood, though, made a tough, driving catch as he had to break back toward the ball and maintained possession for the final TD for the Saints.
Up: Sheldon Rankins
Sheldon Rankins is having a breakout year.
The former first round pick is living up to his pedigree with five sacks in the past five games. In his third year in the NFL (his second year as a starter), he’s leading the Saints defensive line in sacks and is creating havoc for opposing offenses.
Exhibit A, check out this power rush from Rankins for the sack:
But beyond that, he’s helping on other ways that don’t show up in the stat column. Exhibit B, look at this sack from Cam Jordan that was due in large part to Rankins’s spin move up the gut that forced Matty Ice to step up in the pocket:
Sheldon Rankins is 287 pounds, he should not be able to move this fast. pic.twitter.com/g7YXLygMAY— All Saints Considered Podcast (@TheASCPodcast) November 23, 2018
Along with Cam Jordan, a healthy Alex Okafor, and 2018 rookie Marcus Davenport, the defensive line has made massive strides from last year’s group.
Up: Creating Turnovers
All in all, the Saints defense created four turnovers against the Falcons.
The Saints D forced five fumbles from the Falcons while recovering three, none bigger than a red zone fumble from Matt Ryan, knocked out by Marcus Williams.
Stat-Padding-Red-Zone-Stinkin’ Matt Ryan lays another goose egg ... who loses a red zone fumble on a dropback pass from under center?!? He didn’t try to recover the ball.— notplxz (@plezWorld) November 23, 2018
The @AtlantaFalcons vs @Saints game in one play!
Then you have what we will call the “Julio-copter.”
Facing the Saints offense puts so much pressure on the opposing offense to put up points, Julio Jones was trying to take matters into his own hands by fighting for every yard he could. Instead, he got knocked into the air by Marshon Lattimore, hit and helicoptered by Alex Anzalone, and the ball popped out to be recovered by Vonn Bell. Great stuff.
---- Latest #RapidReplays ----LIVE Sports Replay from the NFL - NBA- MLB - NHL - FIFA -}#FLHSFB - #TXHSFB - Football High School Sports highlights - Here's what happenning right this very moments aalen: Falcons vs Saints - Julio fumble NBC Sunday Night F… pic.twitter.com/kITUYOD1bX— #RapidReplay (@RapidReplays) November 23, 2018
There was also AJ Klein’s interception. A Matt Ryan pass was tipped into the air, and Klein was able to come down with his first interception as a Saint. It was an easy catch for Klein, but Saints fans can attest that those have had a habit of dropping harmlessly to the ground in the not-so-distant past. Seeing Klein come down to secure the pick was a refreshing change.
Former Iowa State linebacker A.J. Klein with an interception for the Saints tonight on Thursday Night Football. pic.twitter.com/ZXNR4abP4N— Alex Halsted (@AlexHalsted) November 23, 2018
Down: Drew’s interception
This gets a down for plenty of reasons.
Reason #1: It happened. Here’s the play: Brees throws a pass intended for Keith Kirkwood and it gets picked off by Damontae Kazee.
After a Matt Ryan fumble, Drew Brees comes back with an interception to Damontae Kazeepic.twitter.com/oMyoXwNfVz— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) November 23, 2018
Reason #2: It shouldn’t have happened.
There was pretty obvious defensive pass interference on Thomas after the pass was thrown. The announcers noticed it. Former officials have acknowledged it. Social media exploded over it.
There’s nothing about the would-be DPI call that erases the play from the game at this point, so all we can do is cry in our Cheerios.
Mostly, because of...
Reason #3: It (hopefully won’t, but) could weaken Drew’s MVP argument.
Before the game, Drew had thrown for 25 TDs to only one interception, for a sparkling 25:1 TD to INT ratio. Now, Drew’s numbers are a more “human” 29:2. If Drew has just one pedestrian game, or there is another missed call or unlucky bounce that leads to a pick, Drew’s efficiency numbers - the one thing keeping him ahead of Patrick Mahomes in the MVP race - could start to fall.