Somehow the Saints are leaving week 1, 1-0. With 13:40 left in the 4th quarter the Falcons had a 97.6% chance to win this game according to Next Gen Stats and to some fans giving the Saints a 2.4% chance to win seemed too generous. So, quarter by quarter lets see how New Orleans mounted an unbelievable comeback.
Before going into the breakdown, I wanted to start with an admission. I was wrong, in my preview of this game I made a mistake. I predicted this game based on conventional wisdom and logic. What I should have done was predicted this game based on my years of Saints fandom. This game was ludicrous, as a lot of Saints and more specifically Saints-Falcons games are, especially week 1. I should have known better and will try to not make the same error again!
Now I’ve got that off my chest lets move onto the breakdown.
The Saints struggles were clear straight from the opening Atlanta drive. They couldn’t contain the Falcon’s creative running game. Marcus Mariota looked really good on this drive with two 11 yard runs and 1 of 5 yards. Before the Saints defense finally stiffened up after the Falcons inexplicably decided to pass and forcing a field goal.
Unfortunately, this opening drive was an ominous sign of things to come for Saints fans.
Two of my Saint’s breakout candidates for this season featured on the first offense drive. Unfortunately, one is Juwan Johnson who looked to be held on a third down incompletion (more on Johnson later) and the other? Punter Blake Gillikin as the Saints wen three and out quickly. Gillikin did boom an excellent 58-yard punt, that with better punt coverage from Alontae Taylor (who flashed multiple times as a gunner today), would have pinned the Falcons around their own 10-yard line.
More on my 3 Saints breakout candidates here-Three Saints Players That Could Breakout In 2022 (whodathype.com)
The Saints’ defense was much better on the 2nd Atlanta drive, 2 good plays by Marcus Maye, one on what appeared to be a run blitz, he nearly stopped Damien Williams for a loss but couldn’t quite make the tackle, leaving Cam Jordan to clean up the tackle for no gain, after a deep incompletion to Patterson. Maye again made a good play of 3rd down; he quickly recognised a WR screen and broke on it to stop the play for a minimal gain and got the Saints defense off the field.
The ensuing offensive drive was much more promising for New Orleans, they marched 77 yards on 5 plays, taking just 2 Minutes and 2 seconds to punch it in for a touchdown. The success of this drive was down to Taysom Hill and a little help from his friends. Hill started with a 57-yard rumble on 3rd and 1, Hill showed great vision and power on the run juking and stiff arming a Falcon defender on route. Hill did have a massive hole to run through though with great blocks from FB Adam Prentice, LG Andrus Peat who pulled over to the right side and TE’s Adam Trautman and Juwan Johnson.
Hill capped of the drive with another strong 11-yard touchdown run again to the right side, with an even better block from TE Juwan Johnson, he drove his man to sideline, shoutout to Mark Ingram for leading the way as essentially the FB on the play and Erik McCoy showed why the Saints signed him to a new 5 year deal this week, by getting to the second level with ease to clear the backend of the defense.
The momentum was all Saints after this drive, with the next play from scrimmage being a great FF by Peter Werner giving the Saints the ball back in good position at the Atlanta 43.
Pete Werner forces a fumble! – YouTube
Unfortunately, after 2 good Mark Ingram runs (7 and 6 yards) the offense stalled, at this stage of the game the Saints’ passing offense was completely out of sync. Winston completed 2 of his 6-passing attempts for 6 yards.
This could have been down to Winston’s missed time with his new teammates in the offseason? This could have been Pete Carmichael finding his feet as the play caller? or a mix of both. It also didn’t help the O-line was struggling in pass protection, a theme that would continue (more on that later). Either way it wasn’t working.
To add to the offensive woes, Will Lutz bonked the 44-yard filed goal attempt of the left upright. Meaning no points off the Atlanta turnover and this spelt a major change in the momentum of this game.
1st / 2nd Quarter
After the miss, Atlanta went to work on a bully ball 9 play, 66-yard touchdown drive which started at the end of the 1st quarter and ended in the 2nd. Atlanta ran the ball right at the Saints front, Patterson accounted for 53 of the 66 total yards all on the ground. The Saints were missing tackles and did not seem like the same team that had dominated against the run in the 4 years prior. Atlanta took their first lead of the game.
This quarter was much of the same after the Falcons touchdown drive. The Saints did show some resistance against the run in the Falcons next drive. But that was short lived.
Meanwhile the passing attack of the Saints was completely out of rhythm and couldn’t get anything going. There were players open but the pass protection could not hold up, especially when the Falcons blitzed. Both James Hurst and Cesar Ruiz gave up quick sacks, killing drives where players were open, Winston just had no time to get the ball out. The Saints gave up 3 sacks in this quarter and 1.5 of those were to Grady Jarrett (a player I highlighted in the game preview).
The Falcons managed 2 field goal drives mainly led by Mariota and Patterson on the ground. With a big completion to rookie Drake London mixed in there for good measure. Saints went into half time in disarray and down 16-7.
The Saints started with the ball and showed signs of life. Alvin Kamara started the drive with a nice 5-yard run, his best gain of the day so far. Chris Olave had his first catch of his NFL career with a crucial 11-yard catch on 3rd and 4 to keep the drive alive.
Taysom Hill had another solid 9-yard gain at this point Hill was still looking like the best weapon the Saints had. The passing game started to click, with Michael Thomas finally getting his first catch after being targeted 2 times previously.
The protection issues ultimately let them down, with a big 9-yard loss on a sack from Mykal Walker on, yet again another unpicked-up blitz.
The Saints did manage a 49-yard field goal. After a good gain on 3rd down to Chris Olave. This was needed for Lutz after the miss earlier.
Just when it looked like the Saints could build some momentum, the Falcons marched down the field for a touchdown. Aided by Marcus Maye picking up a pass interference penalty on a pass intended for Olamide Zaccheaus, placing the ball at the Saints 2-yard line. Zaccheaus was a pest this drive having 2 catches for 20 yards before forcing the PI. The Falcons punched it in with a Mariota run up the gut.
The next offensive series started well and ended in disaster. A nice 15-yard gain on the ground for Kamara to start, ending with Winston avoiding pressure on 3rd down again, desperately shovelling the ball to Ingram who tried to make something happen and fumbled right back to the Falcons.
With a short field the Falcons offense looked to land the decisive blow, with a pass to the London and Mariota scramble the Falcons were inside the red zone. The Saints finally got pressure on Mariota, he escaped and scrambled towards the 5-yard line, a typical play for Saints fans considering how the game was going. When a turning point play came to the rescue, and it was made by the 2 free agent safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye. Mathieu pulled one of Mariota’s arms of the ball and Marcus Maye punched it out, with Mathieu falling on it. It was a textbook play by the veteran duo.
It went from being first and goal at the Saints 5- yard line, already down by 13 to 1st and 10 with no points added to Atlanta’s lead.
Now, this was just the start of the change in momentum, the offense didn’t quite come to the party just yet. The Saints went 3 and out in only 3 plays from the ensuing possession. Saints fans figured the fumble was just a way to give the fans hope and a way for the team to play with their emotions, with the offense still stuck in neutral.
On a slightly brighter side all the punts did give us a chance to see 2nd round pick Alontae Taylor as a gunner, he was really impressive getting down the field in a hurry, just needs to work on finishing the play at the end, after missing a couple of tackles. Also, Blake Gillikin is still a stud.
The Falcons got the ball back with 1 minute 40 left in the 3rd quarter on the 50-yard line, after a nice 18-yard return from Avery Williams. Giving them another short field with the chance to put the game to bed with a touchdown.
At this point the Saints seemed so scared against the run they were playing a lot of base defense (4-3) and were still struggling to stop the Falcons rushing attack. They were quickly inside New Orleans’ 10-yard line after an 18-yard pass to KhaDarel Hodge. Crucially the defense held with help from a Falcons false start and stiff bend but don’t break redzone defense. Forcing Atlanta to settle for a short field goal to go up 26-10 with 12:41 to go in the fourth.
Now, this where the Saints offense came to the party. OC Pete Carmichael went to the hurry up offense, a staple of Sean Payton’s tenure and it appears Sneaky Pete isn’t too shabby at calling it either.
Starting with a huge 26-yard connection to my guy TE Juwan Johnson, 15-yard pass to Kamara. A beautiful bomb across the middle to Jarvis Landry. Capped off by a bullet pass on a fade route to Michael Thomas in the endzone, we didn’t know yet that would light a fire in CantGuardMike. Just like that, 5 plays 74 yards in just 1 minute and 29 seconds. The Saints finished the perfect drive, at the perfect time, with the perfect 2-point play. A beautiful play design and route by Chris Olave.
For more on where the Saints got this play, see this thread on twitter from NOLA.com writer Luke Johnson: https://twitter.com/bylukejohnson/status/1569090487381893120?s=46&t=pjr8dFRYhDSX-6V-52acFg
Falcons are still up 26-18 with 11:06 left to go. Surely, they can’t blow another big lead, in the 4th quarter, can they? Well…. Let’s see, shall we? They started well and worked they up to their own 45-yard line with a mix of run and pass, the Saints had started to stiffen up against the run which was promising. The Saints’ defense managed to force a punt after a 3rd and 3 run stop by Shy Tuttle and Cameron Jordan.
Getting the ball back on their own 14-yard line, with 07:04 to go. On came a defiant Jameis Winston and the buoyant Saints offense. Starting with a reception from an Ohio State Buckeye (Chris Olave) and ending with a catch from an Ohio State Buckeye (Michael Thomas) Jameis Winston looked locked in, with the Saints completing their longest drive of the game going 86 yards in 8 plays and crucially only taking 3 minutes 27 of the clock. Thomas, Olave, and Landry all looked excellent on this drive, Thomas especially looking back to his best with 3 catches for 50 yards and a TD on the drive.
Unfortunately, the 2-point try this time was not as successful with a direct snap to Mark Ingram going nowhere, you have to wonder why this didn’t go to Taysom Hill? Leaving the Saints down 2, with 03:38 left.
Falcons started strong, rushing for 21 yards on the first 3 plays (Mariota and Patterson again!) the Saints used their first timeout after the 3rd run, leaving 02:03 on the clock. Pete Werner (who had an overall excellent game, 13 tackles, 1 TFL and a FF) made a crucial play to drop Mariota for a loss on 2nd down as the 2-minute warning hit.
With clock stopped at 01:59 the officials decided they weren’t getting enough attention and decided to call a weak defensive holding on Marshon Lattimore on 3rd down, after Mariota air mailed a ball down field nowhere near anyone. Giving the Falcons a fresh set of downs with 01:52 remaining. Ball placed on the Atlanta 49, crucially the Saints had one timeout remaining, stuffed Patterson for minimal gain on first down. 2nd and 9 Mariota nearly get a first down with an 8-yard scamper, leaving it down to 3rd and 1 at the Saints 42.
Mariota fumbled the snap, recovered it but only enough to get back to the line of scrimmage. Hope was still alive for the Saints.
At their own 20-yard line the Saints had 48 seconds left with no timeouts. Winston produced the throw of the game a 40-yard completion to Jarvis Landry down the left sideline, a perfect throw and it needed to be with 2 Falcons defenders in the area. Landry made a spectacular play caught it and ran for a few more yards, before going out of bounds.
The Saints rushed to the Atlanta 40-yard line, to try and spike it as they believed Landry had been ruled down by contact inbounds, meaning the clock was still running. The Saints got set and spiked it, then a flag. The refs had ruled that Landry was not touched and had got out of bounds, meaning when Winston spike the ball inside the pocket, it was actually intentional grounding. Meaning the Saints lost 10 yards and lost a down. This was a confusing sequence, and it appears the refs got it wrong as Landry was touched his way to the ground.
Alas, the Saints completed one more pass the Juwan Johnson for 17 yards. With no timeouts, Winston rushed to spike the ball again, believing he had one more down, due to the intentional grounding this now meant it was 4th and 4 after the spike not 3rd and 4 as Winston seemed to believe. Winston had just given the Falcons a chance to keep one of their timeouts and left 23 seconds on the clock.
Will ‘Big Nutz’ Lutz as he’s known in Saints world drilled the 51-yard attempt to give the Saints the lead 27-26.
Saints’ fans including me, were nervous, we’ve seen this movie before, and we don’t like the ending. With 19 seconds left and all 3 timeouts, the Falcons started at their own 25-yard line. Following 2 straight incompletions, it was 3rd and 10. The Saints got to Mariota and caused a fumble. Typically, the refs blow the play dead, saying the Falcons had called a timeout prior to the snap.
Try again, this time a 1st down completion to Patterson the Falcons weren’t done yet, they used their 2nd timeout. 6 seconds to go the pass was complete for 5 yards and the clock hit zero. That was it the Saints had pulled off the epic 4th quarter comeback. Wait, hang on, nope the refs again after some time, intervened. Stating the Falcons had called a timeout with 2 seconds left. Not only that but they had also judged a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on Marshon Lattimore (admittingly it was a bad play from Lattimore).
Meaning it all came down to this, ‘Mr Automatic’ Younghoe Koo. Had a chance from 63-yards out to snatch victory away from the Saints in heart-breaking fashion.
But there was one final twist, the kick left Koo’s foot at a low trajectory due to the distance and it’s blocked by Peyton Turner! Saints Win and this time it counted!
The Saints came back when they had no business doing so and in true Saints fashion gave all their fans all they could handle.
I tweeted at halftime that this was a game the Saints just needed to find a way to win, and they did just that, with a bit of help from the Falcons yet again blowing a double-digit 4th quarter lead.
Finally, shoutout @ATLFalconsUK who had this glorious twitter exchange with me during the 3rd quarter!
The Saints will need to be a lot better next week in the home opener against the Bucs. But, if the team from the 4th quarter shows up all game/season long. This is going to be a fun one.
I will be previewing of all and recapping all of the New Orleans Saints games this season on New Orleans Saints – Full10Yards
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