NEW ORLEANS -- Things don't get any weirder when the Falcons and Saints play each other, and Sunday was yet another piece of evidence of that. You got a little bit of everything in this game, and it was one where Atlanta dominated for most all of it. However, New Orleans made a strong comeback in the final 9 minutes, but ended up coming up just short and falling at home again.
The Saints once again won the opening coin toss and elected to defer. The first Falcons drive saw their offense come out aggressive, and Matt Ryan had Kyle Pitts wide open to start things, but he dropped the pass after beating Marshon Lattimore in coverage. The second play went nowhere, but Ryan was able to find a streaking Cordarrelle Patterson for a 34-yard gain to open things up. New Orleans would stand tall defensively, eventually forcing a Falcons punt to end their drive.
New Orleans took over from their own 9-yard-line to start, as the Trevor Siemian era began. Immediately, the Saints got the ground game going, as Mark Ingram picked up 9 yards on his first carry. Ingram was active on the team's first drive, but it eventually stalled out after three straight pass attempts. The sequence was an Ingram screen for a loss, Adam Trautman target that appeared to be catchable, and then a deep shot to Kenny Stills that could not be hauled in.
As Atlanta took over with 8:11 left in the opening quarter, they immediately moved across midfield after Ryan found Pitts for a 39-yard gain. Ryan also hooked up with Patterson for a 13-yard gain on a 3rd-and-4 play to keep their drive going. New Orleans would respond defensively to force a 32-yard Younghoe Koo field goal to put the first points up of the game. The 8-play, 64-yard drive took 3:45 and resulted in Atlanta opening up to a 3-0 lead with 4:26 to play in the opening quarter.
As the Saints started their next offensive possession, the ground game was working. It didn't matter who was running the ball. Whether it was Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, or even Alex Armah, it was successful. Siemian connected a big 3rd-and-4 play to Deonte Harris near the end of the first quarter, but New Orleans ended up going backwards in back-to-back plays from a holding call and false start. More miscues saw the Saints wind up with a 2nd-and-30, and they eventually had to punt from not being able to move the ball. It was a pretty ugly sequence after such a nice start to the drive on the ground.
The Falcons offense took over with 13:30 left until the half, and ended up having a three-and-out. The Saints finally got some help from their receivers on the ensuing possession, as Siemian threw a dart to Tre'Quan Smith to get a 19-yard gain. However, the offense would stall out again after having some receiver connection problems. New Orleans ended up being aggressive and going for it on 4th-and-3, but the sure conversion to Adam Trautman was dropped.
Atlanta had a short drive to counter with, and ended up going for it on a 4th-and-1 play, but Pete Werner came up huge to stop on Mike Davis to give the Saints back the ball at the 7:24 mark of the second quarter. On the drive, the Saints ended up losing C.J. Gardner-Johnson to apparent leg/foot injury. He was later carted to the locker room after being looked at in the blue medical tent.
Unfortunately, the Saints offense couldn't do anything with the ball on the next offensive series, as another costly holding penalty and receiver drop highlighted the short three-and-out. Atlanta would not disappoint on their next series, as they marched 92 yards in 15 plays to get a touchdown before the half to go up 10-0. Ryan capped off the drive by finding Olamide Zaccheaus for a 3-yard score.
New Orleans got a chance to change it up entering the third quarter, and it started immediately on a pass play to Mark Ingram that went for a gain of 14 to start. The drive ended up resulting in a 35-yard Brian Johnson field goal to put the Saints on the board with 9:36 left in the third quarter. The 12-play, 60-yard drive had a heavy dose of Kamara and Ingram, but New Orleans couldn't punch it into the end zone after several attempts.
The Falcons next offensive possession saw them roll into the end zone again with relative ease, as they pieced together a 7-play, 81-yard drive that took 4:23 off the clock. Big plays continued to victimize the Saints defense, and although their run defense was strong, they couldn't stop Matt Ryan and the passing attack. Big plays to Hayden Hurst and Olamide Zaccheaus helped move the drive along, and Ryan took it in himself from a yard out on a 2nd-and-Goal play to put Atlanta up 17-3 with 5:13 left in the third quarter.
Trailing, the Saints offense got some things going on the drive, although a big one got wiped out from a Tre'Quan Smith holding call after a big Alvin Kamara run. Smith got a small chance to atone for the mistake by getting a 20-yard reception on the next play. Big plays to Kamara and Marquez Callaway also helped the drive. On a 4th-and-1 in their own territory, Taysom Hill came in for a snap, but didn't even have to do anything as Tyeler Davison jumped to give New Orleans the first down. A few plays later, the 11-play, 45-yard drive stalled out and the Saints had to settle for a 52-yard Brian Johnson field goal to make it 17-6 Falcons with 14:49 left in the game.
Atlanta had a quick offensive series that saw them punt the ball back to the Saints at the 13:16 mark of the final quarter, and New Orleans was making a strong push after getting some positive gains on the drive. Taysom Hill came in to make a few strong plays passing, and after a false start penalty slowed things down, Siemian came back in the game and was strip-sacked to see Steven Means recover and take it all the way down to the Saints' 6-yard-line with 10:46 left. It took the Falcons one play to get into the end zone, as Ryan found Zaccheaus again, this time from 6 yards out to make it 24-6 Falcons with 10:39 to play.
New Orleans, desperately trying to make it a game, went into a hurry-up mode to make it a game, and it worked this time. The Saints marched 66 yards in 8 plays in 2:42 on a drive that featured a lot of Adam Trautman to get into the end zone. Siemian found Marquez Callaway for a 5-yard touchdown to make it 24-13 with 7:57 to play.
A quick three-and-out for the Falcons gave the Saints another shot. A bad decision by Richie Grant on the Harris punt return gave New Orleans an extra 15 yards to start the drive, and then a 27-yard defensive pass interference put the Saints in business. On a 3rd-and-10, it appeared that the Falcons were going to put an interesting decision on Sean Payton after Trevor Siemian was sacked by Foyesade Oluokun, but he was called for roughing the passer to extend the drive. A few plays later, the Saints got it into the end zone with Kamara on a 2-yard run. The 2-point attempt was no good, as it moved to 24-19 Falcons with 4:35 to play.
The Saints defense needed to make a stop, and they responded in a big way after initially seeing the first play give the Falcons a first down by a Bradley Roby penalty. Two straight sacks by the defense in Cam Jordan and Marcus Davenport gave New Orleans the ball back with 2:46 left in the game.
A good return by Deonte Harris followed by good offensive plays, including a nice hookup to Kenny Stills, got New Orleans in business.
After a rough outing, it was fitting to see Stills get the go-ahead score with 1:01 to play to put the Saints up 25-24 after an 8-yard hookup with Siemian. They rallied from a 19-point deficit, but the Falcons had the last laugh after coming out throwing and hitting on a 64-yard connection to Cordarrelle Patterson to put Atlanta at the 11-yard-line. With the game on the line, Younghoe Koo booted through the 29-yard field goal to win the game 27-25.
The Saints undoubtedly have a lot to work on, as they go on the road for the next two weeks and meet the Titans in Week 10.
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