In one of the wildest games in the 99 game history of one of the NFL's wildest rivalries, the New Orleans Saints defeated the Atlanta Falcons in a 43-37 overtime thriller. Even though the Saints moved to 2-1 by winning a key divisional battle on the road, they were far from flawless. Cornerbacks (using that term loosely) P.J. Williams and Ken Crawley attempted to get Falcons rookie wideout Calvin Ridley inducted into the Hall of Fame on the strength of one performance (7 catches, 146 yards and 3 touchdowns) due to their pathetic and inept play. The team had 11 penalties for 120 yards, two on plays that would have ended Falcon drives but instead led directly to touchdowns. The defense failed to force a turnover for the second time in three games, and poor pass coverage (bad enough to warrant a second mention) allowed quarterback Matt Ryan to throw for 374 yards and five scores. The talent and sheer will of the Saints offensive stars won the day, rolling for 21 1st downs, 268 yards, and 20 points in the 4th quarter and overtime alone. Here were some of the Saints biggest stars from this heart pounding win.
Midway through the second quarter, Brees completed a precisely thrown pass to Michael Thomas, who took the ball upfield for a 17-yd. gain. The connection was Brees' 6,301st completion in his illustrious career, surpassing the all-time NFL completion record held by Brett Favre. For the afternoon, he completed 39 of his 49 attempts (79.6%) for 396 yards and 3 touchdown passes with no interceptions and getting sacked just once. While his precision strikes tore apart the depleted Atlanta defense all afternoon, it was the legs and heart of the 39-yr. old quarterback that put the final two daggers into the heart of the Saints longtime rivals. With just over a minute to play, Brees culminated an 11 play, 81-yd. drive by scrambling to his left, bouncing and spinning off two defenders and diving in for a seven yard touchdown run to tie the game and send it to overtime. Then on the first drive of the extra period, he led them on a 15 play 80-yd. march, completing 8 of 10 passes in the process. From the Atlanta 1-yd. line, Brees bullied his way into the end zone for his fifth score of the day, clinching one of the most entertaining wins in franchise history. More history awaits Brees, as he now sits just 418 yards away from passing Peyton Manning as the NFL's all-time leading passer. Congratulations to one of the best quarterbacks to have ever played.
Saints defensive line
The defensive line was the lone bright spot of another rough defensive day for New Orleans. Cameron Jordan had another big day against an Atlanta team he has made a habit of torturing, sacking Ryan twice and totaling five tackles in his 100th consecutive start. Sheldon Rankins continues to play well, registering 2 tackles for loss and pushing the Falcons pass pocket back on numerous occasions early. Rookie Marcus Davenport is playing better each week, and recorded his first sack as a pro. David Onyemata, Jay Bromley, and Taylor Stallworth all held up well at the point of attack against the run, along with a few quarterback pressures. Alex Okafor was quiet on the stat sheet, but blocked a Falcons punt in the 3rd quarter that led to a big touchdown. The Saints play up front helped hold Atlanta to just 2.2 yards per rush on 22 attempts, and totaled six tackles for loss.
The Saints ran the ball better than at any other time this season without Mark Ingram, rushing the ball for 143 yards on 27 carries. Kamara had his best rushing output of the year, carrying the ball 16 times for 66 yards, an average of 4.1 per carry. New Orleans had success attacking off tackle and outside with Kamara, rather than inside, getting their elusive weapon in space. He was also again a key part of the passing game, along with Thomas. Kamara caught 15 passes, second highest total for a running back in league history, for 124 yards. Although Kamara's touches may decrease slightly when Ingram returns, he had 31 touches for 190 yards in this one, he has shown the ability to be a key every down weapon. One that defensive game plans are built around trying to contain.
Thomas entered the game as the NFL record holder for most receptions (28) after two games. After 10 catches for 129 yards, Thomas now holds the league record for the most receptions in league history after three games. Brees has confidence in his third year wideout against any coverage, and Thomas rarely goes down after initial contact, constantly fighting his way up the field for key yardage. Six of his ten targets in this game resulted in first downs, and no defense has yet to contain him. Although other Saints targets finally got involved in the offensive success, particularly tight end Benjamin Watson, who had five big receptions for 71 yards, it was still Thomas and Kamara who were the focal points. Neither reached the end zone for the first time this season, but they did account for 59% of New Orleans' offensive output. Taysom Hill, Austin Carr, Cameron Meredith, Josh Hill, and Zach Line all made key plays during the game in addition to Watson, an area of concern that had limited the offense's diversity dating back to last season. The fact that the Saints put up 43 points without Kamara or Thomas crossing the goal line bodes well for New Orleans as they continue to struggle defending the pass. Make no mistake however, numbers 41 and 13 are among the most feared offensive players in the league, and will continue to team with their record setting quarterback to give the Saints a distinct edge whenever they take the field.
Who had the most impressive performance in the Saints heartstopping win over Atlanta?
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