The New Orleans Saints capped off Thanksgiving evening by waltzing out of the Atlanta Falcons home stadium with a 26-18 victory and their third straight NFC South championship. The Saints didn't make it easy on themselves though. Jared Cook, who did have 3 catches for 85 yards in the second quarter, dropped two touchdown throws. Ted Ginn Jr. had a scoring toss slip through his hands in the fourth quarter. Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas each had a drop of their own that could have kept a third quarter drive alive. Those miscues made the game closer than it should have been down the stretch. New Orleans also botched two straight onside kick recoveries in infuriating manner to turn an easy win into a nail-biter at the end.
Jack-of-all-trades quarterback Taysom Hill started the game off in spectacular fashion for the visiting Saints. He partially blocked an Atlanta punt on the opening drive to set his team up in scoring position. Hill then caught a nine yard pass for the game's initial 1st down and move the ball deeper in scoring position. He would cap off the drive by taking a short flip from quarterback Drew Brees in for a three yard touchdown and the early lead. Hill scored his team's second touchdown late in the second quarter when he sprinted into the end zone from 30 yards out, helping the Saints to a 17-9 halftime lead.
A New Orleans offensive line that allowed six sacks to this same Atlanta team earlier this month and was starting two reserves on it's left side kept Brees upright all game. Kicker Wil Lutz made sure that his team would not come up empty-handed despite some offensive errors by converting all 4 of his field goal attempts, three from over 40 yards. This contest was all about a New Orleans defense that made several huge plays to come away with the win, however. The Saints defense forced 3 Atlanta turnovers and sacked quarterback Matt Ryan nine times, coming up big when it mattered most to seal the victory.
Here are some of the best performances from the Saints division clinching holiday win.
Davenport opened the game by sacking Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan on the game's first play. The second year defensive end would continue to pressure Ryan throughout the game, flushing him from the pocket several times and picking up his second sack to end a 3rd quarter drive. Davenport would chase down the Falcons quarterback on a key 4th quarter scramble, stripping the ball for a recovery by Vonn Bell that would lead to a New Orleans field goal and a three score lead.
Davis was extremely active all over the field, as he usually is. He had 8 tackles and pressured Ryan on several occasions, adding in key stops against the running game and shadowing the Atlanta backs in pass coverage. Davis had two sacks nullified by penalty, including one key 4th quarter takedown that was reversed by a phantom hands to the face call. Davis' best contribution came late in the game, when the New Orleans linebacking corps was thinned by injury. A.J. Klein was sidelined with an undisclosed injury and Kiko Alonso, who had a spectacular first half, missed the second half with a thigh injury. Davis kept the cohesion and aggressiveness from the unit, keeping the Falcons from taking advantage.
Jordan has made a Thanksgiving feast out of Atlanta blockers throughout his amazing career, and added another chapter to that dominance on Thursday. Jordan had 4 sacks of Ryan, bringing his season total to a career high 13.5 and moving into second place on the franchise's all-time sack list. He bullied Atlanta offensive tackles by mixing power moves inside and superior athleticism on the edge. Jordan had two of his sacks on the final Atlanta drive in attempts to tie the score, including a takedown of Ryan on 4th down to end the game.
Tuttle made a highlight reel interception of Ryan late in the 3rd quarter to thwart an Atlanta scoring drive. Tuttle made a leaping one-handed grab, then sent the Falcons quarterback flying with a stiff arm during the return. Tuttle's play along the defensive line was equally impressive all evening. The rookie defensive tackle sent Ryan running from the pocket on a number of occasions. He teamed with Malcom Brown, Sheldon Rankins, and David Onyemata in a standout performance for the team's defensive tackles. The play of the Saints interior line wouldn't allow Atlanta to use an extra lineman to double team the New Orleans ends, opening up 1-on-1 opportunities for Jordan and Davenport on outside rushes.
The Saints, now 10-2, are the first NFL team to clinch a playoff berth this season. This is the first time in franchise history that they've won the division crown in three consecutive seasons. New Orleans is focused on postseason seeding in the top-heavy NFC though. They now have a few extra days of rest before resuming the next step of their mission. The Saints next game is a week from Sunday, when they take on the San Francisco 49ers in a battle of two of the top teams in the conference.
Who was the player of the game in the Saints win over the Falcons?
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