Head inside the New Orleans Saints locker room postgame after the Saints' win against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1 of the 2022 NFL season presented by Bud Light.
What you thought you saw, is exactly what you saw, and what you saw was this:
The New Orleans Saints have the ability to totally overwhelm an opponent when all three units play complementary football. In Sunday's 27-26 victory over the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, it only happened for one quarter. But that one quarter was enough of a tsunami for the Saints to overcome a 26-10 deficit and to win the regular-season opener.
OFFENSE: For the better part of three quarters, the Saints' offense amounted to two Taysom Hill rushing attempts for 68 yards and a touchdown. New Orleans couldn't convert third downs, couldn't open running lanes, couldn't protect quarterback Jameis Winston and if they did, couldn't find the proper rhythm/accuracy/timing to make Atlanta pay defensively. But in the fourth quarter, the Saints found their nirvana. On consecutive drives, New Orleans drove 75 yards in four plays for a touchdown (and two-point conversion), 86 yards in eight plays for a touchdown (failed two-point conversion attempt) and 47 yards in five plays for Wil Lutz's game-winning, 51-yard field goal. That's coming up with the goods when you have to have them.
DEFENSE: Likewise, for three quarters, the Saints' defense didn't have much to hang its helmet on other than two forced turnovers that the offense couldn't convert into points. The Falcons ran for 160 yards, on 6.2 yards per carry, and two touchdowns in the first three quarters and because the Saints couldn't stop the run, Atlanta was able to splice in a few chunk plays in the passing game. The Falcons finished with 416 yards of offense – a glaring 201 of it rushing – and 26 first downs. But in the fourth quarter, in the final 12:41 and trailing 26-10, New Orleans' defense forced the Falcons to punt on back-to-back possessions, then held Atlanta to a long field goal attempt that was blocked as time expired. Again, that's coming up with the goods when you have to have them.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Lutz kicked two field goals (including the 51-yard game-winner), Blake Gillikin punted five times for a 54.4-yard average, Deonte Harty took his one punt return opportunity back for 12 yards and defensive end Payton Turner bulled through to block Younghoe Koo's 63-yard field goal attempt as time expired, preventing the possible game-winner. It was a more-than-solid day by the unit overall. The only blemish was Lutz's missed 44-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter, which prevented the Saints from capitalizing on a forced turnover. But he more than covered for it in the end.