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John DeShazier: Top Saints performers vs. Falcons

Michael Thomas had huge game

OFFENSE: At no time this season did Michael Thomasnot give us the impression that he was anything less than a stud. The final regular-season game of his rookie season only cemented his resume, as he caught 10 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown in the Saints' 38-32 loss to Atlanta in the Georgia Dome. Thomas became the most decorated rookie receiver in franchise history this season, setting a rookie record for receiving yards (1,137) and receiving touchdowns (nine), breaking the marks set by Marques Colstonin 2006. And he was at his best in the second half against the Falcons, catching seven passes for 101 yards and his touchdown, and also recovering a fumble. Honorable mention goes to a couple of teammates who also achieved milestones: Drew Breesthrew for 350 yards and topped the 5,000-yard mark in a season for the fifth time (no other quarterback has more than one 5,000-yard season), and Mark Ingramran for 103 yards and a touchdown to become the first Saints running back to top 1,000 yards since Deuce McAllisterin '06. It was Ingram's first 1,000-yard season.

DEFENSE: To say the Saints struggled defensively is a major understatement. Atlanta scored two touchdowns within its first five plays from scrimmage, and posted touchdowns on its first five possessions. The Saints didn't force a punt until the second half. But defensive tackle Nick Fairleyagain provided some high-mark moments, recording New Orleans' only sack (raising his season total to a career-high 6.5) while also being credited with a tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries. Fairley was a standout addition as a free agent in the offseason, and a player that the Saints likely will want to retain this offseason.

SPECIAL TEAMS: I'm tempted to go with rookie kicker Wil Lutzon this one; his 19- and 40-yard field goals on Sunday increased his consecutive-makes streak to 13 and raised his season total to 28-for-34. That's a more than acceptable mark considering where Lutz was at one point, when it seemed his kicks were as likely to be blocked or tipped as they were to be successful. The former Georgia State University kicker finished out the season strong, but punter Thomas Morsteadwas outstanding against Atlanta. Four punts for a 56-yard gross average, and a 46.3 yard net – including a 55-yarder that was downed at the Falcons' 1-yard line – showed how much of a weapon Morstead continued to be this season.

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