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New Orleans Saints offense gets on track, defense needs work against Falcons

Offense scored five touchdowns, defense allowed five but had several critical stops

Saints Falcons Football
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) celebrates his pass to New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018, in Atlanta. Brees' pass competition to Thomas for 17 yards broke Brett Favre's record for most past completions in a career with his 6,301 completion. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Atlanta – Before this season is over, New Orleans is going to be an ulcerous city and Saints fans will be a gray-haired, fingernail-less lot. Because so far, what we can say with absolution regarding the Saints is that there won't be a dull moment. All three games have been decided by eight points or less and Sunday's 43-37, overtime victory over the Falcons was decided on the last play, Drew Brees' 1-yard touchdown leap. There always are areas that need to be cleaned (11 penalties is an egregious total), but better to adjust post-victory than in defeat. A quick summation of the three units:

OFFENSE: You can't ask much more of an offense than what the Saints provided Sunday; well, other than cleaning up the penalties that ruined one promising drive and helped hold the Saints to a field goal, instead of scoring a touchdown, on another drive. Brees almost was flawless while having a hand in all five Saints touchdowns – 39 of 49 passing for 396 yards and three touchdowns, and three runs for seven yards and two touchdowns. Michael Thomas (10 catches, 129 yards) and Alvin Kamara (16 rushes for 66 yards, 15 catches for 124 yards) played to star status. The offensive line allowed one sack on 50 pass attempts, paved the way for 143 rushing yards (on 27 attempts) and helped New Orleans convert seven of 14 third-down attempts, and its only fourth-down attempt. It was a night-and-day improvement from the 21-18 victory over Cleveland, where the offense couldn't get in rhythm and converted just three of 12 on third down. Also worth noting is how the Saints extended their trend of late scoring: 16 points in the fourth quarter against Tampa Bay, 18 points in the fourth against Cleveland and 20 points in the fourth quarter and overtime against Atlanta. That's living a bit dangerously, but it's nice to know that you have that tool in the box if you need it.

DEFENSE: There's no giddiness involved after a victory in which the opposing quarterback completed 26 of 35 passes for 374 yards and five touchdowns. The secondary was leaky – that's being generous – and while every quarterback isn't as efficient as is Matt Ryan, that's twice in the first three weeks that the opposing quarterback has thrown for at least four touchdowns. New Orleans is surrendering points and passing yards at a very, very alarming rate. But there were some highs Sunday, too. The Saints held Atlanta to 48 rushing yards on 22 attempts, which was outstanding, and sacked Ryan three times while pressuring him several more (they were credited with six quarterback hits). Cam Jordan had two sacks and rookie Marcus Davenport picked up his first career sack. And the team got off the field on third down; Atlanta was four of 11 on third down. But there also were several damaging penalties from the unit and those are deflating when you otherwise have done the job, but have to play a new set of downs because of a penalty. The unit has to get a lot better. Fast.

SPECIAL TEAMS: I think the Saints will be as pleased with what they see on film as they were with what they saw in the game. Wil Lutz banged through three field goals (literally, banged the first one off the left upright before it caromed through) and Thomas Morstead averaged 50.5 yards on four punts. Taysom Hill was solid on kickoffs (three for 64 yards) and Kamara returned three punts for 16 yards. The big play, obviously, was Alex Okafor's blocked punt in the third quarter. With the Saints trailing 21-16, Okafor's block gave the Saints a short field – Craig Robertson recovered the block and returned it 12 yards to the Atlanta 16-yard line – and the ensuing touchdown drive gave the Saints the lead. As much, it prevented the Falcons from building on the momentum they had after scoring a touchdown to open the third quarter. That's two straight victories in which special teams has had a large say in the outcome.

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