The New Orleans Saints did their job against the Atlanta Falcons Sunday, forcing the San Francisco 49ers to beat the Los Angeles Rams in order to make the playoffs. The 49ers beat the Rams in overtime, so the Saints were eliminated from the postseason. New Orleans never had the outcome of this one in doubt, not trailing at any portion of this game in a convincing 30-20 victory.
Alvin Kamara led the Saints with 30 carries for 146 yards as New Orleans dominated on the ground, running for 195 yards and controlling the time of possession for 39:17. This was without Taysom Hill for the majority of the game, as New Orleans lost their quarterback with a with a Lisfranc injury, as Sean Payton told Fox Sports' Laura Omkin at halftime. Hill had his best passing performance in the first half, going 7 of 9 for 107 yards and a touchdown in getting the Saints out to an early lead.
Trevor Siemian entered in place of Hill, throwing a touchdown pass to Tre'Quan Smith that give the Saints a 14-6 lead with 5:47 left in the second quarter. Siemian threw another touchdown pass with two seconds left in the first half, a 5-yard strike to Juwan Johnson to put New Orleans up 24-6 at the break. Siemian finished 9 of 15 for 71 yards and two touchdowns in relief of Hill, his second victory filling in for a starting quarterback this season.
Russell Gage led the Falcons with nine catches for 126 yards and a touchdown. Matt Ryan finished with 216 passing yards, having his 10 season streak of 4,000 passing yards snapped. Kyle Pitts finished with two catches for eight yards, finishing with 1,026 yards on the year -- 50 yards shy of Mike Ditka's rookie receiving yards record for a tight end.
We'll have takeaways from this one shortly, but a recap and the craziness of the playoff chase can be found in our live blog below!
Why the Saints won
New Orleans controlled the game on the ground, rushing for 195 yards against Atlanta's 26th ranked run defense. Sean Payton clearly saw the Buffalo Bills rush for 233 yards against the Falcons last week and took advantage by giving the ball to Alvin Kamara 30 times for 146 yards in the win. The Saints had 45 carries and controlled the time of possession for over 40 minutes, taking away opportunities for the Falcons offense to get going.
The ability to run efficiently allowed Trevor Siemian to manage the game filling in for Taysom Hill, as Siemian finished with a 111.4 passer rating on 15 pass attempts. New Orleans took care of business against an eliminated Atlanta team by controlling the clock and the run game.
Why the Falcons lost
Atlanta has been brutal in run defense over the last four games and Sunday was no different, giving up 195 yards to the Saints on the ground. While the Falcons allowed only 4.2 yards per carry, they've allowed 180 rush yards per game over the last four games -- a huge reason why Atlanta lost three of four to close the year. The Falcons need to clean up the defense if they wish to take the next step with Arthur Smith. Winning seven games with a first year head coach is a good start, but the Falcons were outscored by 146 points this year.
Malcolm Jenkins had a forced fumble on a pass play to Mike Davis after the Saints scored to go up 17-6, the second turnover by the New Orleans defense on consecutive plays. The Saints got the ball with 52 seconds left and scored a touchdown three plays later to take a commanding 24-6 lead into halftime.
Jenkins' takeaway took the life out of the Falcons, basically ending any hope of pulling off the upset. The 13-year pro can still play at a high level.
Play of the game
Paulson Adebo had one of the best interceptions of the year with this one-handed grab late in the second quarter. After the saints scored a touchdown to go up 14-6, Matt Ryan went deep for Russell Gage on the first offensive play from scrimmage and was greeted by the Saints defensive back, who took the return 17 yards to the Saints' 46-yard line.
The interception led to a field goal to put New Orleans up 17-6. Adebo finished with three interceptions on the year.
"it's definitely a weird feeling. It's kind of bittersweet or whatever. We just won the game, but we didn't reach our ultimate goal." -- Saints cornerback Paulson Adebo on the Saints missing the playoffs.
The Saints beat the Falcons and forced the 49ers to beat the Rams Sunday. San Francisco overcame a 17-point halftime deficit to steal the victory from the Rams, eliminating the Saints from the playoffs.
Both teams had their seasons end in Week 18. The Saints finished 9-8 and the Falcons finished 7-10.