Atlanta – On a short week, playing their third game in 11 days, the New Orleans Saints (9-4) put forth a yeoman effort that didn't result in a victory, but showed the kind of character that we've come to expect of them. The 20-17 loss to Atlanta in Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be one that the Saints will feel the sting of for several reasons, and it'll be a game that may drive the team to greater heights later. Certainly, it was one in which several players stood out even though it wasn't cleanly played.
OFFENSE: Any team that chooses to do anything other than double team Michael Thomas is begging for trouble. The second-year receiver tapped Atlanta's secondary for 10 catches, 117 yards and a touchdown Thursday night and his full array of talents were on display. He makes tough catches in traffic, he's capable of yards-after-catch and he's as competitive as any receiver in the league when it comes to claiming ownership of passes within his catch radius. The Saints' offense was a bit sketchy against Atlanta, with just 306 total yards. Thomas was a consistent threat, and continues to play like a No. 1 receiver.
DEFENSE: This one was a tough pick, just because of several standouts. Rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore came back after missing two games and had an interception (which he returned 33 yards), a pass defensed and three tackles. Safety Chris Banjo subbed in for Kenny Vaccaro and had an interception that led to a touchdown, and safety Marcus Williams also returned after missing a game with injury to pick off a pass in the end zone and thwart a scoring opportunity by the Falcons. But, possibly, no Saints defender was steadier than linebacker Manti Te'o (a team-high 10 tackles, and two tackles for loss), whose snap count rose due to A.J. Klein's injury. Te'o was in the mix at a high level defensively, and the defense helped put the Saints in position to win the game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Saints seem to have found a spark in their return game with receiver Tommylee Lewis. Lewis had kickoff returns of 36 and 31 yards, in the first and second quarters, to set the Saints on the path to a field goal and a touchdown drive, respectively. He had a couple of nice punt returns against Washington to help spark New Orleans in that victory. He is beginning to make his presence felt, in a good way.