For the first time since 2005, the New Orleans Saints would face their archenemy, the Atlanta Falcons, without Drew Brees behind center. Saints head coach Sean Payton shocked most of the football world at mid-week when he announced that Taysom Hill would get the start for the injured Brees over the more experienced Jameis Winston.
Amid reports of a divided locker room over their preference at quarterback, the Saints responded with a dominant defensive and offensive performance in pummeling the Falcons 24-9.
Atlanta began this contest with a 65-Yd march, bolstered by a 45-Yd completion to WR Calvin Ridley, which ended with a short field goal. New Orleans would go three-and-out on their first possession, with Hill taking a sack on 3rd and short. The Saints defense took control of the game after that.
After that opening drive, New Orleans allowed just 183 yards through the rest of the game and held a potent Atlanta offense to only three field goals. The Falcons were just 2 of 14 on 3rd downs and had negative yardage in the third quarter. New Orleans sacked Atlanta QB Matt Ryan 8 times and intercepted him twice, putting a stranglehold on the game.
Offensively, the Saints maintained a balanced attack that rushed for 168 yards, picked up 24 1st downs, and made the plays necessary in the passing game. Wide receiver Michael Thomas looked like the previous three years' unguardable force and had 9 receptions for 104 yards.
Emmanuel Sanders made big plays down the field for Hill, while Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray combined with their quarterback to provide an effective ground game.
The Saints notched their seventh straight victory and currently hold the top seed in the NFC. Here’s who had the biggest impact in their convincing win over arch-rival Atlanta.
JANORIS JENKINS, CORNERBACK
Even without injured CB Marshon Lattimore, the entire New Orleans secondary once again had a standout performance. Patrick Robinson stepped into Lattimore's starting spot and helped contain a dangerous Falcons receiving corps.
Safety Marcus Williams grabbed his third interception of the year and eliminated the deep pass with outstanding range and vision. Fellow safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson were an active presence all over the field. The star in the back end for the Saints in this game, however, was cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
Jenkins stumbled on the opening drive deep play to Ridley and dropped an easy interception in the second quarter, but was otherwise near flawless in coverage against Ridley and a hobbled Julio Jones. He had five big pass breakups, clinched the win with a fourth-quarter interception, and essentially took Ryan's best targets out of the game.
DEMARIO DAVIS, LINEBACKER
Davis led the Saints with seven tackles and was, as always, a fearsome presence all over the field. He also had a sack and several pressures on Ryan, giving the defense yet another skilled pass rusher. He keyed a run defense that held the Falcons to just 52 rushing yards to make them one-dimensional.
Davis is easily the NFL's most underrated defensive player. He is the catalyst on a unit that has allowed just one touchdown and forced 7 turnovers in the last three games.
CAMERON JORDAN, DEFENSIVE END
The Saints swarmed over Matt Ryan with a relentless pass rush that sacked him 8 times and registered 12 QB hits. End Trey Hendrickson continued his breakout season with 3 sacks.
Underrated DT David Onyemata added 2 sacks and 4 pressures inside, as he and Demario Davis spent the afternoon in the Falcons backfield. The biggest impact up front would come courtesy of Cam Jordan, who has had a Hall of Fame career against Atlanta blocking.
Jordan had three sacks yesterday and was a constant disruption to Ryan along with his teammates up front. He now has 21 career sacks and 36 QB hits against the Falcons in 19 games against them, including 7 sacks of Ryan in the last two meetings between these teams. Jordan now has 5.5 sacks this season and was the most disruptive force in a dominating defensive outing.
TAYSOM HILL, QUARTERBACK
Hill was impressive in his first NFL start. He ran for a game-high 51 yards and scored two touchdowns, showcasing his usual mobility and open-field running skills. The surprising thing for many was how well he performed as a passer.
Hill completed 18 of his 23 throws for 233 yards, hitting on a variety of passes all over the field. He displayed excellent composure in the pocket and played within the game plan that coach Sean Payton designed around what he does best.
Hill's performance may have temporarily silenced some critics who doubted his ability to play quarterback. More importantly, he was a vital part of the Saints notching a big win over a division rival and showed that New Orleans is still a dangerous team on both sides of the ball even with Brees out of the lineup.