Falcons at Saints score: Matt Ryan, Atlanta defense upset New Orleans as Drew Brees sacked six times

The Atlanta Falcons were able to move to 2-7 on the season after upsetting the New Orleans Saints (7-2) at the Superdome, 26-9. 

Out of the gate, the Falcons were the more aggressive team and that continued throughout the afternoon. They outran the Saints, played more discipline and jumped on a number of their mistakes. Matt Ryan completed 20 of his 35 passes for 182 yards, two scores and a pick in the win, while the running game totaled over 140 yards. 

As for the Saints, they were held without a touchdown in this contest, but Drew Brees did have a solid statistical performance in his second game back from his thumb injury. He completed 32 passes for 287 yards, but was pressure on a good number of his drop backs as the Falcons front seven were breathing down his neck from the jump. In the end, however, penalties were killer for the Saints. 

To read more on how this upset unfolded, take a look at our takeaways from the Week 10 contest below. 

Why the Falcons won 

To put it simply, Atalanta limited their mistakes and played a near perfect game. They came out of the gate with the clear mission of establishing the run. They totaled 57 yards on the ground in their opening drive, and that continued for the rest of the game as they put up 143 rushing yards in all. For reference, the Falcons averaged just 69 yards a game this season heading into Week 10.

That success in the running game helped Matt Ryan's offense dominate time of possession for the bulk of the game, holding on to the ball for nearly 34 minutes to New Orleans' 26. They also had four drives that lasted at least five minutes. 

Defensively, Dan Quinn's team was able to pressure Drew Brees all afternoon, totaling six sacks and 11 quarterback hits. Through their first eight games, the Falcons managed just seven sacks total, so this was quite the bump for this unit. 

Why the Saints lost 

New Orleans, as a whole, played some undisciplined football. Heading into this matchup, they were one of the least penalized teams in the league, but were called for 12 penalties that totaled 90 yards in the loss. 

A number of those infractions were killer for Sean Payton's team as they either directly led to their offense stalling out or giving Atlanta points. On Atlanta's second possession of the game, it looked like the defense was going to hold them to another field goal attempt, but corner Marshon Lattimore was called for a clear defensive holding penalty at the goal line, which gave the Falcons a first down. Two plays later, Matt Ryan completed a quick eight yard touchdown pass to Austin Hooper to go up 10-3. 

Offensively, there were a number of situations were false starts and other penalties turned third-and-manageable situations for New Orleans into third-and-long. That's why the Saints were only able to complete three of the 12 third down opportunities they faced in this game. This was the third time this season where the Saints were held without a touchdown. They only had two such games combined from 2006-18, per NFL Research

A lack of aggressiveness was also noticeable by New Orleans in this game. With 6:05 to play in the third quarter, the Saints were facing a fourth-and-goal opportunity from the Atlanta 10-yard line. They were down 13-6 at the time and elected to kick the field goal instead of attempting to tie the game with a touchdown. They netted the field goal, but Atlanta went down on their next possession to score a touchdown and really put the game away. When you're in your building, that seemed like a situation for Sean Payton to go for it. If they failed, they could then dare the Falcons to go the length of the field. 

Turning point 

And it's that rather coy play-calling by New Orleans where we find our turning point in the game. After the Saints hit the filed goal to make it a 13-9 Falcons lead, Atlanta ripped off a 13-play drive that resulted in Matt Ryan's touchdown pass to running back Brian Hill to blow the game open, 20-9. Not only did that give the Falcons some cushion, but it also chewed 6:12 off the clock and brought them into the fourth quarter.

From that point, there was really no shot at the Saints pulling off a miracle comeback as they punted and then turned the ball over on downs in their final four possessions. 

Play of the game

Michael Thomas had an absolutely astounding toe-tapping catch to bring the Saints near the goal line on their very first offensive possession. Taysom Hill was able to drop back and throw a pretty back shoulder pass to Thomas, who spun around and was able to not only break away from his defender, but get both feet in bounds. 

This series also summed up the night for New Orleans. After Thomas' jaw-dropping grab, the offense stalled out. Latavius Murray ran for no gain, then Brees completed a short pass to Hill before he was sacked for a nine-yard loss to force a field goal attempt. The inability to score touchdowns in this game was on full display in that sequence. 

While the offense couldn't hit pay dirt, Thomas himself had quite the game. He caught 13 of his 14 targets for 152 yards receiving. He also recorded his 401st career reception in this game, giving him the most catches through a player's first four seasons in NFL history. 

Quotable 

"It's definitely encouraging. Going through any kind of losing streak, it's definitely hard. For us not to be able to give up and try to make changes where we can, wherever we can, to not quit and beat a real good team in their house, it means a lot and it says a lot about our team." - Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, per the team's website.   

The Falcons looked like a completely different team than the 1-7 squad we saw before the bye. Jarrett was a big reason why, accounting for 2.5 of the team's six sacks on the day. With head coach Dan Quinn very publicly being on the hot seat, it's noticeable that his team hasn't quit on him to this point. If he stacks up a few more performances like he did in this game, he could very well save his job.  

What's next 

From here, the Saints will regroup and prepare to take on the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay, while the Falcons will try to carry this momentum into their NFC South showdown with the Panthers is Carolina. 

To see how it all went down in real time, check out our live blog below. 

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Thank you all for following along today. Be sure to check in here in a little bit to read our main takeaways from this game.

And the Atlanta Falcons complete the upset of the New Orleans Saints, 26-9. Statement win that Dan Quinn can hang his hat on as his seat gets a little cooler.

Gotta love the garbage time fantasy points by New Orleans.

Have to give the Falcons a ton of credit here. They had this win essentially from the jump. The Saints, meanwhile, were flat all day. Penalties were absolutely crushing.

@AtlantaFalcons via Twitter
November 10, 2019, 8:59 PM

And just as quickly there was hope for the Saints, three straight incompletions hands the ball back to Atlanta.

@AtlantaFalcons via Twitter
November 10, 2019, 8:55 PM

New Orleans needs to go no huddle here and have Brees start slinging it. Time is very much against them.

And the Saints have a little bit a life. Matt Ryan was looking for a big shot to Ridley, but it was picked off by Marcus Williams.

And that sack should just about do it.

The pressure that Atlanta has put on Drew Brees is a big reason why they have the inside track at winning this game.

Michael Thomas quietly has nine receptions for 103 yards.

Good for the Falcons to just put up points there. Extends their lead, 23-9. Would take a Drew Brees Hall of Fame-type performance to mount a comeback now.

Saints have the 11 penalties today ...

Wow. New Orleans is so undisciplined today.

Julio Jones just couldn't adjust to that throw. I think he thought Matt Ryan was throwing it to the sidelined. Instead, it was going over his right shoulder.

Such a clutch catch by Austin Hooper there. Smart for him to haul it in, go down and keep the chains moving.

No idea why Atlanta is trying to get cute and go with a screen pass.

Like the strategy to start here by the Falcons on this drive. Run the ball, kill the clock.

Another example of penalties putting the Saints behind the eight ball and then the Falcons pass rusher getting after Drew Brees.

@AtlantaFalcons via Twitter
November 10, 2019, 8:29 PM
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