That got interesting for a second, but the Saints held on. They definitely have some questions moving forward, but this win gives them the division title for the third year in a row. Thanks for joining us. Stay tuned to CBSSports.com for more analysis from this game.
The New Orleans Saints got their revenge and clinched the NFC South for the third year in a row all in one game, as they defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 26-18, on Thanksgiving.
The Falcons took down the Saints 26-9 just three weeks ago, so the Saints were motivated to avoid being swept by the worst team in the division. While they did enough for the win, the Saints certainly did not play one of their better games of the season. They went just 2 of 10 on third down and had 279 yards of total offense compared to the Falcons' 348 yards. The Saints also committed nine penalties for a total of 121 yards, which makes it the second game in a row the Saints have had over 120 penalty yards.
There were some late-game dramatics, as the Falcons recovered three straight onside kicks (one was nullified due to an offsides penalty) and got the ball back down eight points with two minutes left, but the Saints defense stepped up to ensure a Thanksgiving miracle was not about to happen.
It was a wild day of Thanksgiving football and there's a lot to go over. Fortunately Will Brinson, John Breech, Ryan Wilson and Sean Wagner-McGough are here to break everything down from all three games on the Pick Six Podcast. Listen to the full show below and be sure to subscribe here for daily NFL goodness fired into your eardrums.
Why the Saints won
The Saints can thank one player for this victory: backup quarterback Taysom Hill. While the Saints' offense didn't look dominant on Thursday night, the do-it-all athlete had a hand in every touchdown scored. He blocked a punt on the Falcons' first possession of the game, and then caught a three-yard pass from Drew Brees just three plays later. In the second quarter, Hill rushed right up the middle for a 30-yard score.
On a night where Michael Thomas had just 48 yards receiving, Alvin Kamara had less than 100 yards from scrimmage and Brees had less than 200 passing yards, Hill was the playmaker who stepped up for his team. Naturally, Hill usually doesn't get many touches. Things may change moving forward, however, especially if the Saints' offense continues to struggle. He's someone who knows how to take advantage of opportunities, and he's the reason the Saints clinched the NFC South on Thanksgiving night.
Why the Falcons lost
The Falcons battled all night, but when it came down to it, they just didn't have enough left in the tank. More specifically, the offensive line did not have enough left in the tank. Ryan was sacked nine times on Thursday night, and having starting guard James Carpenter leave the matchup early with a concussion did not help matters.
Even with all the sacks and without Julio Jones, the Falcons still found themselves in it until the very end. Theyand had the ball near midfield with less than two minutes remaining down eight points. Ryan was then sacked on first down and then on third down. Thankfully, a hands to the face penalty was called, which gave the Falcons a fresh set of downs in enemy territory. Ryan was then sacked again on first down and then on fourth down to end the game.
Ryan had no chance for an incredible comeback in the fourth quarter since he was under duress the entire time. Give credit to guys like Cameron Jordan, who accounted for four sacks by himself, but if the Falcons' offensive line had been better, I'm convinced Atlanta could have sent this game to overtime.
While the Saints led all game long, it certainly felt like the Falcons were always within striking distance. Things started to go horribly wrong for Atlanta towards the end by the third quarter, however. Ryan was intercepted on back-to-back drives and then fumbled away possession while trying to convert a third-and-5 with his legs. The Saints only got six points from those three turnovers, but it was basically enough to put this game out of reach. The Falcons did raise some eyebrows with the onside kick drama, but it never really felt like the game was in doubt since Ryan ended up on his back more often than not.
Play of the game
There weren't many moments in this matchup that got viewers excited, but thanks to undrafted rookie Shy Tuttle, a play occurred in the second half that Falcons haters will have on repeat for the next few years. In the third quarter, Tuttle read a pass from Ryan and tried to knock it down. He actually corralled it and took off the other way -- the first interception of his career.
He then noticed that Ryan was running beside him, and he delivered a pretty brutal stiff arm:
The Saints host the San Francisco 49ers next Sunday. It's very possible that this could be a preview of the NFC Championship Game this year, and the Saints have a chance to prove they should be the frontrunner in their conference. The Falcons host the Carolina Panthers next Sunday, the team they defeated 29-3 just two weeks ago.