Atlanta, GA – With the Falcons division title hopes on the line, the defense stepped up big in a 20-17 win over New Orleans. After 3 Matt Ryan interceptions in the game, a complete role reversal won it for Atlanta as Deion Jones intercepted Drew Brees in the end zone on the Saints final drive.
“I knew I was isolated and I thought Drew [Brees] knew that. When the tight end looked back, I looked back and the ball was right there. I just tried to make a play on the ball and I happened to catch it. It was a long way down but I held on to it. I was just thinking to hold on to the ball. It’s all about the ball. Once I realized that I had it, I knew it was going to be a long way down. I felt my feet in the air and I just wanted to hold on to it and get up with the ball. I just opened up my eyes and all my brothers were standing right there.,” said Jones of the play.
The game was back and forth most of the night, especially in the first half. Both teams started the game with opening drive field goals. Then both teams traded punts before finally getting into the end zone.
Atlanta would get in first on their 3rd drive on a 1-yard burst up the middle from Devonta Freeman to make it 10-3 with 4:35 left in the 1st half. After the Saints tied things up on a 26-yard TD connection from Brees to wideout Tommylee Lewis, the first interception of the night came for Ryan.
With 14 seconds left to play in the half and the Falcons at the New Orleans 42 yard line, Ryan pumped the ball quickly and then threw for Julio Jones, who was covered. Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore cut off the route and intercepted the pass, returning it 33 yards to the Atlanta 29 yard line with just 4 seconds left on the clock, with Julio Jones making what Falcons head coach Dan Quinn described as a possible game-changing tackle.
“I thought it was an excellent play by Julio Jones on the tackle during the return. Without his tackle, that one probably would’ve gone back further. I’ll look at that one, but I I saw his speed go and chased him to make a good play for the tackle. That speaks of who he is as a competitor.”
Saints kicker Wil Luts put the field goal through the uprights as time expired for the go-ahead score for New Orleans. However, flags flew, and the Saints were called for an illegal formation. This negated the field goal and ended the half due to it being an offensive penalty. Saint’s head coach Sean Payton was livid, to say the least as he ran onto the field demanding explanations from the officials.
“They felt like the player [Josh LeRibeus] wasn’t far enough up on the line. Usually, you get a warning with that, especially when you have a back-up in.”, said Payton after the game.
On the flip side, the second half started in complete disaster for the Falcons. Matt Ryan was picked off on the first play from scrimmage by Chris Banjo, setting up the Saints with a 1st and ten at the Atlanta 29 yard line. Four plays later, Brees connected with Michael Thomas in the endzone to make it 17-10 just a minute and 45 seconds into the 2nd half.
On the Falcons ensuing possession, they would run five consecutive run plays to get into the redzone before putting the ball back in Ryan’s hands. His first pass was incomplete, and Saints free safety Marcus Williams picked off the second in the endzone on a pass intended for Jones.
The Falcons defense stepped up enormously and wouldn’t let the Saints into Atlanta territory the rest of the night until New Orleans final drive. However, before New Orleans final drive, Atlanta would add a touchdown and a field goal to their total, taking a 20-17 lead with just 3:54 left to play.
With the Saints facing a 4th down and inches at the Atlanta 24 yard line, well in field goal range, and only 1:55 left on the clock, the Saints elected to go for it. Brees would take the QB sneak for two yards, picking up the 1st down.
However, three plays later on 2nd and 10 from the Falcons 11 yard line, Brees threw over the middle into the back of the endzone looking for tight end Josh Hill. That is when a leaping Deion Jones went up and snagged the ball for the Falcons interception, all but sealing the fate of New Orleans.
In retrospect, Brees said he should never have thrown the pass.
“Yeah, I shouldn’t have thrown it. They made a nice play. It wasn’t worth the risk right there, especially when you know that you have points. It’s not like you have to have a touchdown to tie. We could have kicked the field goal since we had points. I’m just disappointed in the result there. I should not have taken that chance.”
A personal foul call on Saints head coach Sean Payton on the Falcons ensuing possession would give Atlanta a fresh set of downs. New Orleans had just one timeout left to that point and used it immediately with 1:05 left to play. Two kneels later from Ryan, the deed was done.
The win kept the Falcons hopes of hosting their first playoff game in the Mercedes Benz Stadium alive. In fact, with all three remaining games on the Falcons schedule being division games, their hopes of winning a 2nd straight NFC South Division title are quite reasonably alive. All they have to do is win out. Easier said than done, however, anything is possible.