The Atlanta Falcons hoped to restart their recent winning ways as they hosted the New Orleans Saints in the nightcap of the Thanksgiving Day games. The Saints sought revenge in their own right, as the Falcons handed them a 26-9 loss just two weeks ago.
However, the Saints would ground the Falcons 26-18. With the win, New Orleans clinched the NFC South for the third straight season, the sixth division title for head coach Sean Payton while eliminating Atlanta from playoff contention.
Wide receiver Julio Jones would be ruled out and it would not start well for Atlanta as starting quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked on the very first play of the game. After three plays, the Falcons were set to punt but it was blocked by Taysom Hill.
Four plays later, Saints quarterback Drew Brees hit Hill on a three-yard touchdown pass. Kicker Will Lutz made the extra point making it 7-0 early in the contest.
“When you have guys like Mike Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Jared Cook, the list goes on, it kind of creates opportunities for little old me because it creates so much attention that’s put on those guys,” Hill said. “Coach (Sean Payton) is one of the best at being creative and putting guys in positions to be successful. I got lucky because I was that guy tonight.”
Atlanta would take their 3rd drive and use runs by Devonta Freeman and two passes from Ryan to wide receiver Christian Blake to get down to the Saints 2-yard line. On 4th and 1, Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn decided to go for it but they fail on a Ryan pass attempt to Calvin Ridley, leaving the score at 7-0 early in the 2nd quarter.
After another Falcons defensive stop, the offense would take over on their own 45. On the third play of the drive, Ryan attempted a pass to Ridley that was incomplete but Saints Cornerback Vonn Bell was called for pass interference and the Falcons got the ball at the New Orleans 18-yard line.
Atlanta would hit pay dirt on a Ryan to pass Jaeden Graham. However, kicker Younghoe Koo would miss the extra point making the game 7-6.
The Saints would get the ball back on the next drive using a 40–yard pass from Brees to Jared Cook to get the ball to the 10-yard line. The Falcons defense would force a 4th down and Lutz would hit a 22–yard field goal, pushing their lead to 10-6, paying off an eight-play, 77-yard drive.
On the Falcons next drive, the offense would mix both the run and pass with running backs Brian Hill and Kenjon Barner to get the ball in Saints territory but the drive would stall forcing a 42-yard field goal attempt by Koo. The Falcons kicker out of Georgia Southern missed the attempt leaving the score at 10-6.
New Orleans would go on a four-play, 68-yard drive, scoring on a 30-yard Taysom Hill and with the extra point and Saints were now ahead 17-6.
The Falcons got the ball with 1:53 left in the half and marched four plays, 68-play drive, add three to their total on a 45-yard Koo field goal, making it 17-9 going into the break.
After exchanging stalled drives at the beginning of the 3rd quarter, New Orleans went on a 10-play, 51-yard drive, and scored on a 47-yard field goal by Lutz, going up 20-9 with 5:54 left in the 3rd.
On the next possession for the Falcons, the offense went on a methodical drive into Saints territory, but Ryan would throw an interception to defensive tackle Shy Tuttle, and he would return the ball 19 yards to the 50. The Saints would go three and out after the interception.
The Falcons would get the ball back but Ryan would throw his 2nd interception of the night to Saints quarterback Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and he would return the ball 28 yards to the Saints 29. The Falcons defense would hold the Saints to another field goal, as Lutz hit a 42 yarder, pushing the lead to 23-9 with 10:14 left in the contest.
On the next possession for the Falcons, Matt Ryan would attempt to scramble for a first down but was hit by Defensive End Marcus Davenport and fumbled. The ball was recovered by the Saints and they took over on offense.
After a short drive, the Saints would score on another Lutz field goal, making the score 26-9.
The Falcons would get the ball back and go on a 9-play, 75-yard drive, capping it off with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to wide receiver Russell Gage. The two-point conversion failed, but the Falcons cut the lead to 26-15. Atlanta would attempt an onside kick and recover but was called for offsides. After the penalty, they would attempt it again and this time it would be recovered by Foyesade Oluokun.
The Falcons would go eight plays, 34 yards, and would score on at 43-yard field goal by Koo, making the score 26-18. Atlanta would attempt another onside kick and again would recover the football, this time by Kemal Ishmael.
The Falcons would attempt a comeback but after Ryan was sacked three times on the drive, the Saints would get the ball back and run out the clock, with the final of 26-18. Ryan was sacked nine times Thursday night, including four by Jordan.
“We had to drop back and pass at the end of the game,” Ryan said. “When you do that and there’s really no threat of the run, it’s tough sledding, particularly when you’re going against a good defense, a very good defensive line and one of the better pass rushers in the game in Cam Jordan.”
Atlanta will host the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Dec. 8 at 1 p.m.