Everything seemed to go the Saints way as they jumped out to a 13-0 halftime lead. New Orleans held Atlanta to 111 yards, and didn’t allow them to convert a third down in the first half. The Saints offense didn’t have its best game, but they controlled the clock and avoided mistakes against a ninth-ranked Falcons defense.
Despite the win and the guaranteed trip to the playoffs, New Orleans still has a lot to play for in their final game of the regular season. The Carolina Panthers (11-4) also won and clinched a playoff berth on Sunday, and only a head-to-head tiebreaker keeps the Saints at the top of the NFC South. They need a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or a Panthers loss next week to clinch the division.
New Orleans can also move up from fourth place in the NFC into the third seed with a win in their final game, and a loss by the Los Angeles Rams (11-4).
Here are three takeaways from the Saints dominant win over their biggest rival.
Week 16 New Orleans Saints Takeaways
Saints Stifle Atlanta’s run game
The Falcons entered week 16 with an eighth-ranked 122.9 rushing yards per game. They had run for 100 or more yards in all but three of their games this season, including 201-yard outing last week against Tampa Bay. Atlanta tried to establish their running game against New Orleans, but at halftime, they had only gained 20 yards on the ground.
On Atlanta’s first drive, Saints linebacker Manti Te’o shot through the Falcons offensive line and stuffed running back Devonta Freeman for a four-yard loss. This set the tone for the rest of the game as the Saints defense went on to record seven tackles for losses. Freeman finished with 36 yards on 11 carries, and fellow running back Tevin Coleman gained just 12 rushing yards.
Drew Brees Shows His Greatness
Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for 239 yards against Atlanta, his third-lowest total of the season, but Brees played efficiently enough to compensate for a struggling run game.
After allowing 50 rushing yards against New Orleans in week 14, Atlanta held the Saints to 86 rushing yards and 2.8 yards per attempt, their lowest rushing average of the season. However, Brees was able to keep running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara involved in the passing game and the backs combined for 80 receiving yards on 10 receptions.
Brees completed 75 percent of his passes, and found receiver Ted Ginn open on a deep post for a 54-yard touchdown. Falcons linebacker Deion Jones intercepted Brees for the second time this season, but the Saints quarterback deserves little blame for the turnover. Ginn had dropped a very catchable pass that bounced right to Jones.
Brees also reached two significant milestones against Atlanta. He became only the third quarterback in NFL history to cross 70,000 career passing yards, and he did it faster than both Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. In addition, Brees passed 4,000 yards for the twelfth consecutive season, extending his NFL record.
Big Plays by Saints Defense
With starters A.J. Klein and Kenny Vaccaro added to injured reserve last week, questions surround the capability of this Saints defense heading into the postseason. Despite these injuries along with multiple injuries at defensive end, the Saints defense played one of its best games against a Falcons offense that tore them apart twice last season.
New Orleans kept Atlanta scoreless for the first 35 minutes of the game. During that span Atlanta went zero for three on third downs, Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore intercepted a Matt Ryan pass in bizarre fashion, and Te’o recovered a fumble forced by defensive tackle Tyeler Davison in the red zone.
The Lattimore interception set up the long touchdown pass from Brees to Ginn, and the fumble recovery prevented Atlanta from capitalizing off of their own interception. The Saints also ended a 74-yard Falcons drive in the fourth quarter by stuffing Freeman for no gain on a fourth and goal attempt. Defensive end Cameron Jordan sacked Ryan twice on third down plays, and Atlanta finished two for 13 on third downs.
For now at least, it appears the Saints defense will be capable of holding its own in the postseason.