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John DeShazier: Sean Payton pleased with team's effort, unhappy with officiating

Penalties gave Falcons nine first downs

More game action photos from the Saints-Falcons matchup.

New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton on Friday praised his team's effort in a 20-17 loss Thursday night in Atlanta, but was much harsher in his assessment of an officiating crew that penalized the Saints 11 times for 87 yards. The Falcons, penalized four times for 35 yards, achieved nine of their 26 first downs via Saints penalties.

The Saints (9-4) remain in first place in the NFC South Division standings, a game ahead of Atlanta (8-5), with Carolina (8-4) set to play Minnesota on Sunday in Charlotte, N.C.

"I thought our guys fought hard," Payton said. "I thought guys competed. Obviously, it went back and forth.

"I thought the officiating was extremely poor. 'Inconsistent' would be a great way to put it. And I thought that had a lot to do with the way this game ended. And that's the thing that was the most frustrating – two teams are out there, fighting hard, but the calls, as I went through every one of them, and the ones that weren't called, (there were) too many inconsistencies. I think it's been a problem all year and it's something that's going to have to be addressed from a leadership standpoint at the top in our league office."

Payton, when asked how he would immediately address the officiating with the league office, said: "Nothing. Nothing we do. We just call in. It's wasted energy. It's something that has come up with other teams earlier in the year. Even some of the replays – just the confidence level has to be improved."

There were several penalties which drew his ire, though he declined to go through a complete list. However, he did give an abbreviated one.

"I'm not going to go through each one of them," Payton said. "You can look at everything, from the roughing the passer call, or the lack thereof (defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins drew the penalty in the second quarter; Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw incomplete on third-and-11, but the penalty kept alive a drive that resulted in a Falcons touchdown).

"I know what that rule is in place for, but it wasn't in place for what happened with Sheldon (Thursday) night. Keep going. Defensive holding. Pick out a play. I'm not going to sit and go through every call. It's frustrating when you have a game, instead of it being decided on the field like it's supposed to, you have a crew make so many mistakes in one event."

Payton also drew a penalty himself, for unsportsmanlike conduct, with 1:05 remaining in the game.

"I haven't talked to anyone from the league," he said. "Any more questions about the game, not the officiating?"

Two areas with which he was pleased was the play of the secondary, which produced interceptions – by cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safeties Chris Banjo and Marcus Williams – on three consecutive possessions and helped limit Ryan to 221 passing yards, and receiver Michael Thomas, who caught a career-high tying 10 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown.

"He made some big plays, I felt," Payton said of Thomas. "He was strong. He got held on two or three different occasions. I thought they were important plays for us as a team. We've got to continue to find ways to get him touches. But that was impressive."

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