Taysom Hill scored two touchdowns and deflected an Atlanta punt, and the New Orleans Saints defense forced three Matt Ryan turnovers in avenging one of their two losses this season with a 26-18 victory over the Falcons on Thursday night.
After losing to the Falcons at home just three weeks ago by a 26-9 margin, the Saints flipped the script in Atlanta. Will Lutz converted four field goals from 22, 47, 42 and 45 yards to complement Hill’s two scores as New Orleans improved to 10-2 and clinched the NFC South title with the win.
Russell Gage scored on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Ryan with 3:26 to go with a failed two-point conversion try trimming the advantage to 26-15. The Falcons would recover the ensuing onside kick (twice) to chip into the lead once again. Younghoe Koo converted a 43-yard field goal at the two-minute warning to make it a one score game, 26-18, and the Falcons recovered yet another onside kick to give them a chance to tie.
Instead, the Saints pass rush took over as Ryan was sacked three times on their final possession and had a fourth sack negated by a defensive penalty to close out the win for New Orleans. Ryan was sacked nine times with Cameron Jordan responsible for four of the sacks.
Hill deflected a punt on the opening possession of the game that set up the Saints with a short field opportunity for their first drive. Hill would score a 3-yard touchdown on a toss pass from Drew Brees to give the Saints an early 7-0 lead. Hill would then spring free for a 30-yard touchdown run on a quarterback run as the Saints built a 17-9 lead at halftime.
With the Saints holding a 7-0 lead, the Falcons pushed down to the New Orleans 2-yard line at the end of the first quarter before electing to go for it on a fourth-and-1 instead of kicking a 20-yard field goal. Ryan threw incomplete to Christian Blake as Atlanta came up empty on their first red zone possession of the game.
However, the Saints couldn’t move the ball out of danger backed up against their own goal line and went three-and-out to give the ball back to the Falcons on a short field. Atlanta finally got on the board as a 35-yard pass interference call against Eli Apple preceded an 18-yard touchdown pass to Jaeden Graham. However, a missed extra point wide left from Koo preserved a 7-6 Saints lead for the time being.
Ryan completed 35 of 50 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns. However, he was intercepted twice by C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Shy Tuttle and lost a fumble forced by Marcus Davenport. Julio Jones and Austin Hooper were both inactive for the Falcons due to injuries.
New Orleans would immediately answer on their next possession. Jared Cook broke free for a catch-and-run up the sidelines for 40 yards down to the Falcons’ 10-yard line. The drive would stall and the Saints settled for a 22-yard field goal from Will Lutz to extend the lead to 10-6.
An 11-play, 50-yard drive from the Falcons would result in no points as Koo pulled a 42-yard field goal try wide left as well. New Orleans would quickly take advantage with Hill’s second touchdown of the night pushing the lead to 11 with two minutes left in the half.
Atlanta converted a fourth down and gave Koo one last chance before the half and he responded with a 45-yard conversion to close the gap to 17-9.
Drew Brees completed 18 of 30 passes for just 184 yards with a touchdown and Alvin Kamara was limited to just 61 yards on 11 carries, but Hill and the Saints defense carried the night as the Saints are division champs again.