The New Orleans Saints concluded their 2021-22 regular season with a dominant 30-20 road victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
Unfortunately, the Saints season will go no further because of a heartless effort by the overrated Los Angeles Rams. New Orleans needed a Rams victory over San Francisco to qualify for the playoffs.
Instead, a season full of obstacles and a mountain of injuries finishes with a 9-8 record and second place in the NFC South.
The Saints started this game strong and never relinquished control. They took the opening possession on a 10-play 86-yard drive that ended with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Taysom Hill to TE Adam Trautman.
Hill was terrific on the first three drives, leading the offense into scoring position on all three possessions. He threw for 107 yards on 7 of 9 passing and picked up another 18 yards on the ground.
Hill left the game on the third series with a foot injury. Trevor Siemian came in to relieve the injured Hill and completed 9 of 15 passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns.
New Orleans contained the Falcons defensively. They recorded three sacks, caused three turnovers, and held Atlanta to just 172 yards and 9 first downs until a meaningless touchdown drive late in the contest.
Here were the top performers in the Saints convincing win over their arch-rivals.
PAULSON ADEBO, CB
Adebo was part of a big defensive coverage outing that held top Atlanta weapons Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Pitts to a combined 3 receptions for 9 yards.
Veteran S Malcolm Jenkins forced a fumble from Falcons RB Mike Davis that set up a crucial touchdown before halftime. Corners Marshon Lattimore and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson gave up little in coverage.
Atlanta QB Matt Ryan threw for 216 yards, with 95 of that coming on the final drive. Smothering New Orleans coverage often left Ryan nowhere to go with the ball, despite several attempts down the field.
Adebo, a rookie third-round pick, was often the target of Ryan's downfield throws. The first-year corner gave up a couple plays, but for the most part responded like a future Pro Bowler.
Adebo's acrobatic one-handed interception of Ryan late in the second quarter set up a New Orleans field goal to put them up 17-6. He also broke up two other throws and quickly shut down plays in front of him, finishing with five tackles.
A unit battered by injuries all season imposed its will on the Falcons defense on Sunday. Elite RT Ryan Ramczyk finally returned after missing seven games and had a dominant outing. New Orleans dictated the pace of the game, holding the ball for 71 plays and converting 8 of 16 third down chances.
The Saints picked up 195 yards on the ground, averaging over 4.2 per carry. Their offensive line not only had terrific push at the point attack, but opened up crucial cutback lanes for their runners.
The line also provided exemplary protection for their quarterbacks. Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian did not get sacked and often had plenty of time from the pocket. Atlanta wasn't even able to record an official quarterback hit on 27 dropbacks by New Orleans passers.
MARCUS DAVENPORT/CAM JORDAN, DEs
The Saints recorded three sacks and 9 QB hits on Ryan. Atlanta was held to just 62 yards rushing, including a paltry 14 in the first half. While linebackers Demario Davis and Kwon Alexander played active roles, the Saints controlled the line of scrimmage with their defensive front.
Pro Bowl DE Cameron Jordan batted down two passes and had one sack. It was Jordan's 23rd career sack against the Falcons and his 15th in the last nine games against Atlanta. Defensive tackles David Onyemata and Shy Tuttle consistently blew up interior blocking all afternoon.
The Saints defensive line disrupted Atlanta's offensive continuity throughout the game, but DE Marcus Davenport stood out most. Davenport altered several running plays and was constantly in the Falcons backfield, whether lining up inside or on the edge.
Davenport had 1.5 sacks and 3 QB hits while hurrying Ryan on several other occasions. His forced fumble of Mike Davis in the fourth quarter set up a New Orleans field goal that all but clinched the game.
ALVIN KAMARA, RB
Atlanta has been one of the few teams to contain the dynamic New Orleans running back in his career. Not on this day. Kamara rushed for a season-high 146 yards on a career-high 30 carries.
Despite an Atlanta defense designed to stop him, Kamara consistently used his elite vision and lethal cutback ability to pick up yardage. A brilliant 27-yard run was the key play on the Saints opening touchdown drive.
Kamara picked up 29 rushing yards on a crucial drive that ended with a field goal to open the fourth quarter. He had 75 yards rushing in the first half, then picked up some key first downs in the second half with impressive extra effort.
The Saints season did not end with a postseason trip for the first in six seasons. Despite an endless string of injuries and other obstacles this team faced in 2021, New Orleans still had a winning record and finished the season strong.
Great talent on both sides of the ball will make this team a force to be reckoned with in 2022.