Saints edge Falcons in wild OT shootout

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Photos: William E. Anthony

 
In an epic battle of the latest edition of the southern pro football rivalry that is the New Orleans Saints versus Atlanta Falcons, the biggest play came at the end of regulation.

That is when the Saints won the coin toss.

The NFL has never figured out how to run an overtime.

In 2010, the Saints advanced to Super Bowl XLIV when they won the toss against the Minnesota Vikings, kicked a field goal and won the game without Minnesota even getting a chance to have the ball.

That led to a rule change dictating that the game can only end with one possession if that possession is a touchdown.

Once again, the Saints exposed the rule again to their favor, not allowing Atlanta a chance with the ball in the extra period Sunday.


Rules aside, watching Drew Brees operate as he approaches 40 is an incredible pleasure, amazing on so many fronts.

While the Falcons were missing key players, they are a good team and very hard to beat on the road. That is why they were they were favored to win. They did not, largely thanks to Brees and his dynamic duo of Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas.

Brees took the Saints 80 yards in 15 plays, taking 7:05 off the clock, squeezing the life out of the Falcons in the only possession in overtime. It was a thing of beauty.

On an afternoon where Matt Ryan set a personal record and tied a franchise record with five touchdown passes and shredded the Saints, particularly P.J. Williams and Ken Crawley, Atlanta still lost. For further evidence of how good Ryan was and how bad the Saints were in the secondary, Ryan set an all-time NFL record for the highest passer rating in a loss at 148.1.

New Orleans punished the Falcons for 534 yards. Scoring 37 points was not enough. They needed one more score and got it to help overcome an undisciplined effort which included 11 penalties for 120 yards.

Here are my Quick Takes on the Saints’ 43-37 victory at Atlanta:

**The Falcons won the toss and deferred, giving the Saints the ball first.

**Josh LeRibeus started at guard for Andrus Peat

**Cam Meredith was active and started the game.

**Drew Brees opened with a 45-yard completion to Michael Thomas.

**Then, Alvin Kamara had the next four touches, bringing the Saints to the Atlanta four-yard line.

**On third down, Brees faked a pitch to Kamara, rolled right and hit Ted Ginn, Jr. on a four-yard touchdown pass. Ginn, Jr. made a defender miss in space to score on a drive that went 75 yards in six plays, taking 3:15 off the clock.


**Brees was 4-for-4 for 55 yards and a touchdown on the drive.

**Kamara was deep to receive the first punt by Atlanta, replacing the injured Tommylee Lewis.

**On the second possession for New Orleans, Kamara was split wide left. He was left uncovered initially. Brees saw it, went to a hot read and threw it right away but Kamara kept running and was not looking. That led to a three-and-out for New Orleans.

**Atlanta came right back and drove 81 yards in 12 plays as the Falcons and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian attacked P.J. Williams repeatedly and Calvin Ridley made three catches on him, the last being an 18-yard touchdown pass on a stop-and-go. Williams bit hard, got beat and gave it up as the game became 7-7 with 2:45 to play in the first quarter.

**The Saints recaptured the lead, going 31 yards in six plays with Wil Lutz banking in a 49-yard field goal to make it 10-7 with 9:37 to play in the half. The kick hit the left upright and caromed through. The drive was promising but a holding call on Ben Watson a pass completion killed the possession.

**Brees became the all-time leader in NFL history in completions with 6,301 with an 18-yard completion to Michael Thomas midway through the second quarter.

**The drive continued and the Saints reached the Atlanta seven-yard line with a first-and-goal after a beautiful throw and diving catch by Ben Watson.

**Then, New Orleans killed itself with consecutive penalties, a hold on LeRibeus and a false start on Terron Armstead.

**Field goals are good but touchdowns win games. Atlanta needed just two plays to go after P.J. Williams again as Ryan hit Ridley in stride on a deep ball, whipping Williams again for a 75-yard touchdown to give the Falcons a 14-13 lead with 2:12 to play in the half.


**LeRibeus then got a false start penalty and on third-and-15, Brees made a perfect deep out throw to Ginn, Jr. and he simply dropped the ball, forcing a Saints punt.

**The Saints defense got a big stop, forcing a punt and got the ball back at their own 42-yard line with 40 seconds left in the half and one timeout.

**That was enough for Brees, who completed a 12-yard pass to Kamara and a 27-yard effort to Watson on another good catch. That set up Lutz for a 45-yard field goal to give New Orleans a 16-14 lead at halftime.

**This marked the first time Lutz has kicked three field goals in a half in his young NFL career.

**Brees completed 20-of-27 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown in the first half with one key drop by Ginn, Jr. to force a punt.

**Ryan finished the half 11-of-17 for 186 yards and two touchdowns.

**Top draft pick Marcus Davenport collected his first sack in the league in the first half, a very positive sign.


**New Orleans came into the game converting just 33 percent of its third down opportunities. They converted just 2-of-7 (28%) in the first half.

**Ken Crawley started the second half after Calvin Ridley torched P.J. Williams in the first half.

**To make matters worse, Crawley got beat deep by Ridley deep and he committed pass interference, a 45-yard infraction to the New Orleans five-yard line.

**On the next play, Patrick Robinson was injured and he was carted off with a left ankle injury.

**Then, Ryan had all day to throw and eventually found Ridley for a nine-yard touchdown to give Atlanta a 21-16 lead. It took the Falcons just six plays to drive 75 yards, taking just 2:59.

**Ridley became the first rookie receiver to record three touchdown catches in a game since Odell Beckham of Newman and LSU did so in 2014 for the Giants.


**Alex Okafor came up with a huge play, blocking a Matthew Bosher punt and Craig Robertson picked it up and returned it to the Falcons 16-yard line.


**Despite another false start penalty, this one on Josh Hill, Brees overcame it by stepping up under pressure and finding Cam Meredith on an 11-yard touchdown pass to give the Saints a 23-21 lead with 6:07 to play in the third quarter. It was the first catch as a Saint for Meredith and it was a good way to start. Meredith became the 62nd player to catch a touchdown pass from Brees.


**Atlanta responded by driving 82 yards in 12 plays, taking 6:56 off the clock with Ryan hitting Tevin Coleman on a five-yard touchdown pass. The drive stayed alive on a pass interference call on P.J. Williams on third down. Then, Ryan hit Austin Hooper on a two-point conversion to extend the lead to 29-23 with 14:11 to play in the game.

**The Saints offense, which only had eight snaps in the third quarter, took over and calmly drove 75 yards in eight plays. Unable to punch it in from the one-yard line on third down, Sean Payton called timeout and went for it on fourth down. Brees hit Zach Line on a one-yard touchdown pass as Line leaked out in the left flat and defeated the tackle of Marcus Trufant and Lutz made the extra point to give the Saints a 30-29 lead with 9:59 to play in the game.


**The big play of the drive was a read option run by Taysom Hill, good for 35 yards. On the play, Hill was horse-collared, giving the Saints the ball at the 10-yard line.


**It would never hold up. Julio Jones torched Ken Crawley on a 58-yard completion from Ryan to the New Orleans 12-yard line.

**The Saints got a sack from Cameron Jordan to force a Matt Bryant field goal, which he made. Of course, that was not enough. David Onyemata committed an obvious personal foul, hitting the center and giving Atlanta new life.

**The Falcons took the points off the board and Ryan hit Mohamed Sanu, who was wide open, on a five-yard touchdown pass to give the Falcons a 35-30 lead. Then, the Falcons went for two and Ryan, who had all day to throw, found an open Sanu for the two-point conversion to make it 37-30 with 6:58 to play in the game. The drive covered 75 yards in just five plays, taking 3:01 off the clock.


**Michael Thomas set a record for the most catches in the first three games of an NFL season with 35 with a reception in the fourth quarter.

**The Saints drove 81 yards in 11 plays, taking 5:43 off the clock. Amazingly, Brees finished the drive himself on a nine-yard touchdown run as Brian Poole missed a tackle at the five-yard line and Brees dove into the end zone and Lutz tied it with the extra point at 37-37 with 1:15 to play in the game.


**The Saints then got a big stop, thanks to Sheldon Rankins getting to Ryan and A.J. Klein blitzing Ryan and forcing an incomplete pass on third down.

**Then came overtime.

**The last overtime game between the Saints and Falcons was the season opener of 2014 when the Falcons won 37-34 at the Georgia Dome on Sept. 7 of that year and New Orleans went on to a 7-9 season.

After going just 2-for-7 on first down in the first half, the Saints converted 5-of-7 third downs the rest of the way, improving their mark of 33 percent conversions entering the game. For good measure, New Orleans was 1-for-1 on fourth down.

So much for regulating the touches Kamara gets.

The Saints needed him badly on this day and he delivered. In all, Kamara had 34 touches for 195 yards. He is a fabulous player.

So, too, is Michael Thomas.

So far this season, no one can guard Mike, as he claims via his Twitter handle.

Thomas has set an NFL record for the most catches in the first three games of a season with 38. He had 10 catches for 129 yards on this day and has 398 yards and three touchdown receptions on the year.

Brees was awesome, completing 39-of-49 passes (79.5%) for 396 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for two scores. It was the first time Brees has rushed for two scores since he did so at Miami in a 46-34 win on Oct. 25, 2009.

Consider where Brees is after three games.

He has completed 104-of-129 passes for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions. To clarify, Brees has completed 80.6 percent of his passes. That is coming off of a record-setting season in which he completed 72 percent of his passes a year ago.


The man is a marvel. He deserves more than one Super Bowl championship. Without vastly improved play from the porous New Orleans defense, that goal appears far-fetched.

If the injury to Robinson proves to be substantive, the Saints are in deep trouble at cornerback.

Crawley was benched for awful play in the first two games of the season. P.J. Williams was even worse Sunday. Both defensive backs that were drafted this year are gone.

Yes, the Falcons have great weapons with Jones, Sanu and Ridley but what we saw today will happen again and frequently if the cornerback play does not improve.

If you are looking for any bright spots on defense, start with Jordan, who was very good. Klein played solidly. Davenport got his first sack.

The Saints travel to face the New York Giants next week. The Giants got their first win, beating Houston 27-22 Sunday. It will not be easy. Eli Manning and Odell Beckham have to be licking their chops watching the Saints secondary perform.

Still, the Saints are 2-1, scoring 40 or more points in two of three games while winning the one they did not go for 40 in. They have lost a game as a favorite and won a game as an underdog. They are where they are supposed to be, record-wise, but have issues.

While Meredith got his first catch, Austin Carr caught just one ball and Tre’Quan Smith was not targeted. The Saints need more from their other wideouts, though Ben Watson has helped fill the void. He had five catches for 71 yards against Atlanta.

Then, there is the defense, as a whole. It stands to reason that New Orleans will be at the bottom of the league in total defense heading into next week. That does not bode well for a team that was considered a championship contender and one that I felt could win the NFC.

Still, you can feel good for now. When the Saints and Falcons play, it is generally a jump ball, flip-a-coin game. The Saints got the call right and right about now, the Falcons are saying “flip this.”

The Saints have a winning record and they beat the Falcons. All is well with the world.

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Ken Trahan

Ken Trahan

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE Owner and CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Football Foundation, College…

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