NFL Wire News

Saints come up big in short week


The Sports Xchange

METAIRIE, La. — The New Orleans Saints limped into Thursday night’s game against the arch-rival Atlanta Falcons with a lot of bruised bodies and egos, thanks to a rough 1-4 start to the season.

As if the record wasn’t bad enough, the Saints were just four days removed from a 39-17 setback at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles on the road.

But on a short week, they turned back the clock for one night on offense, defense and special teams and pummeled Atlanta, dominating the previously-unbeaten Falcons from start to finish for a satisfying and much-needed 31-21 victory in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

It was a performance few saw coming, especially after the Saints showed little in the way of inspiration while being outscored 29-0 by the Eagles in the second half until getting a touchdown on the game’s final play.

The offense got a vintage passing night from Drew Brees, who tossed 10 of his 30 completions to veteran tight end Benjamin Watson for 127 yards and a 2-yard touchdown pass that gave the Saints a 24-7 lead late in the third quarter.

The defense came up with three fumble recoveries and sacked Matt Ryan five times and special teams contributed when linebacker Michael Mauti blocked a Matt Bosher punt and returned it four yards for a touchdown that gave the Saints a 14-0 first-quarter lead.

Just like that, on a wild night in New Orleans, the Saints were back after 96 hours filled with rampant speculation about the future of head coach Sean Payton, Brees, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and just about everyone else wearing black and gold on the floor of the Superdome.

“It’s validation, when you go out and play like we did tonight, after a short week and a miserable loss in Philadelphia on Sunday,” Brees said. “To put together such a complete game, both offensively and defensively, doing what we needed to do when we needed to do it, was incredible.”

“There’s something about these night games in New Orleans … our crowd from the get-go was excited,” Watson said. “We haven’t given them much to be excited about this season, but they come and show up every time we get a night game.”

To be sure, it was like old times.

“You talk about it all year long,” Brees said. “So for it all to come together like that and just give us a glimpse of what we can be, and show that all the hard work and trust and belief in one another can — and is paying off — is truly something special.”


–PASSING OFFENSE: A. The Saints thought they might be able to get some things done against the Falcons through the air, which was imperative because Atlanta had the best run defense in the NFL going into the game. Head coach Sean Payton came out with an aggressive passing attack and it worked to perfection when Drew Brees completed 30 of 39 pass attempts for 312 yards with one TD and no interceptions while being sacked just once. Brees helped veteran tight end Benjamin Watson have a career day as he recorded 10 receptions for 127 yards and a 2-yard TD that gave the Saints a 24-7 cushion late in the third quarter. A total of 22 completions went to tight ends and running backs as the Saints took advantage of what the Falcons gave them. Willie Snead caught four balls for 55 yards and Brandin Cooks had four receptions for 41 yards.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: D-plus. The Saints haven’t been great at running the ball this season, so averaging just 2.5 yards per carry against a Falcons’ defense that was allowing just 78.4 yards per game wasn’t all that surprising. Mark Ingram got 46 tough yards on 20 carries and Khiry Robinson managed 23 yards on seven attempts as the Saints had 81 yards on 32 tries. The Saints did cap two drives with rushing touchdowns as Ingram scored on runs of 1 and 2 yards. The 2-yarder came at the end of an 80-yard drive on the Saints’ first possession, which may have set the tone for their upset win.

–PASS DEFENSE: A. The Saints turned in their best effort of the season, thanks to a combination of a strong rush and good coverage for the most part in the secondary — especially from first-year cornerback Delvin Breaux. He and his teammates held the Falcons’ dangerous wide receivers to 14 receptions for 164 yards and just one short touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Roddy White. The Saints were especially strong in the second half when Julio Jones, White and Leonard Hankerson combined for six catches for 53 yards after picking up 112 yards on eight receptions in the first half. Ryan was 30-of-44 for 295 yards with two TDs, but he was sacked five times — including three by defensive end Cameron Jordan — and was harassed all night by the Saints’ front seven. Jones did finish with six catches for 93 yards, but had only three grabs for 25 yards in the final two quarters.

–RUN DEFENSE: D-plus. One of the league’s worst run defenses was gashed again when the Falcons netted 7.1 yards per attempt in picking up 150 yards on 21 carries. But the Saints did come up with a big fumble in the red zone when linebacker Dannell Ellerbe popped the ball free from rookie Tevin Coleman and Brandon Browner recovered. But it was an otherwise dismal night for the run defense as Devonta Freeman had 100 yards and a 25-yard touchdown run on just 13 carries, averaging 7.7 yards per try. Coleman added 40 yards on four carries with a long run of 18, but the Saints got some help from their offense’s ability to build a big lead and force the Falcons to become one-dimensional for the most part.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B. The only thing that saves the grade here was a blocked punt by reserve linebacker Michael Mauti and his 4-yard return for a touchdown that gave the Saints a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. The rest of the night was poor as kicker Zach Hocker missed two more field goals, pushing a 51-yard attempt to the right and hooking a 48-yarder late in the game even though he made a 31-yarder in the second half. Brandon Fields was again unimpressive in filling in for injured punter Thomas Morstead, averaging just 43.8 gross yards and 33.5 net yards with a long of 57 even though he did have one downed inside the 20. The Saints averaged 6.0 yards on two punt returns, but the Falcons had punt returns of 11 and 10 yards.

–COACHING: A. As he’s done in the past, Payton did a masterful job getting his team ready to play just four days after a lackluster 39-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on the road. Despite the ugly setback to the Eagles, Payton made sure his players got the proper rest and they responded with their best effort this season on offense, which was sharp most of the night, and defense. The Saints committed a season-low three penalties for 15 yards. In addition to being sound with their tackling, the defense came up with three takeaways and five sacks.

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