Deion Jones closed the door on the New Orleans Saints potential game-winning drive with an acrobatic interception of a pass from Drew Brees intended for tight end Josh Hill in the end zone.
New Orleans trailed 20-17 with less than 4 minutes to play after Atlanta took the lead on a 52-yard field goal by Matt Bryant. The Falcons defense had a tough time getting stops as the Saints advanced down the field. On third-and-one, Saints tackle Ryan Ramczyk was called for holding on an incomplete pass play. Rather than take the penalty to make it third-and-11 from the 34-yard line and adding distance to any field goal attempt, Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn opted to decline the penalty.
“We didn’t want to move it back some and give them a chance at a potential first down,” explained Quinn. Declining the penalty brought up fourth-and-one. A distance Drew Brees believed his team could get. “He said we came here to win,” said Brees of his discussion with head coach Sean Payton. “We felt like if we don’t get it, we still have timeouts.“If we kick a field goal right now, we give them a lot of time.”
Drew Brees called his own number and burrowed in behind center Max Unger for a first
down at the Falcons 22. The Saints kept on burrowing right on down to the Falcons 11 yard line. Atlanta needed a big play or for New Orleans to make a mistake.
The Saints had made one mistake already in the game. Marshon Lattimore’s interception of Matt Ryan with 14 seconds left in the first half gave the Saints an opportunity to attempt a 46-yard field goal and take the lead going into the half. The kick sailed through the uprights but a penalty for an illegal formation nullified the field goal to end the half and draw the ire of Payton. “They felt like the player [Josh LeRibeus] wasn’t far enough up on the line,” explained Payton. “Usually, you get a warning with that, especially when you have a back-up in. Normal protocol is a warning.”
Lattimore’s interception was Ryan’s first but not his last on the night. The interception was indicative of Ryan’s play on the night. On that play, the 10-year veteran tried to force the pass to Julio Jones but found Lattimore instead. Ryan threw his second interception trying to get the ball to Jones in the end zone. His third interception at the top of the third quarter wasn’t on him. The pass to Austin Hooper bounced off the tight end and into the hands of safety Chris Banjo.
There were flashes of brilliance in-between the turnovers.
Atlanta answered the Saints opening field goal with a 65-yard drive. Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman battered the Saints defense on the ground and Jones hit them for 38 through the air. Once inside the red zone, the offense bogged down and Bryant kicked his first field goal.
The Falcons took the lead on their first drive of the second quarter. They even got a little help from their opponents. A roughing the passer penalty on defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins on third-and-11 extended the Falcons drive with 15 yards and an automatic first down. Atlanta continued grinding out yards on the 8-minute drive mixing the run with the pass. On third down, Freeman capped the drive with an easy 1-yard jaunt.
Trailing by seven at the top of the fourth quarter, Atlanta accomplished what has become synonymous with their success -they scored a touchdown. This drive looked nearly identical to the first. Coleman and Freeman pounded through the Saints defense and the Ryan-Jones connection picked up huge yards. The only difference on the drive was the score. Instead of Freeman walking into the end zone, Ryan threw a strike to Mohamed Sanu for the game-tying score.
A sack by defensive end Adrian Clayborn forced the Saints to give the ball back after 15 yards on four downs. Atlanta took the lead four minutes later on Bryant’s second field goal.
A field goal was good but a touchdown would have been better given the 4 minutes remaining on the clock. Brees had already proved in the second quarter that the Saints offense could score in as little as 2:36 minutes. And down the field, the Saints marched.
Brees usually does a good job of accounting for the whereabouts of defenders. For some reason, he has trouble keeping up with Deion Jones. Last year the second-year player from New Orleans, propelled the Falcons to a win over the Saints in the Mercedes Benz Superdome with a pick six. Brees had the same problem Thursday night. This time Jones’ interception killed the last viable Saints scoring drive to seal the 20-17 win for the Falcons.
All photos by Jason McDonald, CORE360 Sports