Atlanta – It's a good thing that the New Orleans Saints have a few days off before they get back to work. One, because they're a bruised and battered team following a 20-17, nationally televised loss to the Falcons in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Rookie running back Alvin Kamara, left guard Senio Kelemete, defensive lineman Trey Hendrickson and safety Kenny Vaccaro were among the Saints who were injured and had to leave the game. And, two, because there are no words to describe the frustration, anger, vitriol – and more – that they felt during and following the game. The Saints were credited with 11 penalties, for 87 yards, and they weren't at all satisfied with the disproportionate number (Atlanta was penalized four times, for 35 yards). This one will stick in the gut for a few days, understandably so.
OFFENSE: New Orleans didn't do enough with football when it had possession of it. That's the long and short of it. True, it didn't help that the Saints lost Kamara, their rookie sensation, on the first series of the game with a concussion. That removed from the Saints a valuable weapon, who entered the game with 1,220 total yards and 11 touchdowns rushing and receiving. But New Orleans was 3 of 10 on third down, and didn't fully take advantage of three interceptions – it only scored one touchdown off the turnovers; once, it punted and the other time, had a successful field goal wiped out due to penalty. Drew Brees (26 of 35 for 271 yards and two touchdowns) was clean until his final pass, an end zone interception to Deion Jones with 1:25 left. And Michael Thomas (10 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown) was a monster. But the Saints couldn't run the ball (15 carries for 50 yards) and the failure to convert third downs swung the total plays (52 plays for the Saints, 65 for Atlanta) and time of possession (25:19 for New Orleans, 34:41 for Atlanta). Simply, the offense has to be more efficient when it is given extra opportunities, as it was Thursday night.
DEFENSE: The Saints' defense did enough to win the game. Period. True, the Falcons converted 7 of 12 chances on third down and totaled 343 yards. But the Saints had interceptions on three consecutive possessions defensively, by cornerback Marshon Lattimore on Atlanta's final possession of the first half, and by safeties Chris Banjo and Marcus Williams on the first two possessions of the second half. From that, the Saints managed to score one touchdown and that's not enough. Defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha came up with a big sack, Cam Jordan (three quarterback hits and a tackle for loss) basically menaced another offensive line, and linebacker Manti Te'o (10 tackles and two tackles for loss) was everywhere. The Saints had five passes defensed and five tackles for losses. Now, the unit hurt itself with a slew of penalties; some were debatable, to put it mildly. But overall, three interceptions on the road against Atlanta's Matt Ryan and a better-than-solid night in pass defense (221 passing yards allowed) should have been enough.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Tommylee Lewis is making the Saints look smart for making him the primary returner. First, it was a couple of nice punt returns in the victory against Washington. On Thursday, he had kickoff returns of 36 and 31 yards, in the first and second quarters, to help spark drives that resulted in a field goal and a touchdown, respectively. The illegal formation penalty assessed to Josh LeRibeus on Wil Lutz's 47-yard field attempt at the end of the first half – after Lattimore's interception and 33-yard return – wiped the successful kick off the board and ended the half. Rather than a 13-10 halftime lead, the Saints were tied at 10-10. The penalty was one that had Coach Sean Payton steaming; Payton said that officials usually assess a warning on such plays. Kickoff cover teams didn't have a banner night (two returns for a 30.5-yard average by Atlanta) but there were no monumental fails on special teams.