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New Orleans Saints produce enough big plays to hold off Atlanta in 21-18 victory

Defense produces timely turnover to help secure win

New Orleans Saints corner back Bradley Roby (21) catches a fumble by Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Drake London (5) in the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

The New Orleans Saints couldn't string together a series of big plays or scoring drives to provide a knockout punch Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons in the Caesars Superdome. But they put together enough of them at the right times on the way to posting a 21-18 victory that, for New Orleans (5-9), ended a two-game losing streak and gave the Saints the season series sweep over the Falcons (5-9).

OFFENSE: Not a banner day offensively, but not a bad one by any stretch, either. New Orleans totaled 348 yards, was 5 for 11 on third down, ran for 134 yards – Alvin Kamara gained 91 on 21 carries, the kind of usage that the Saints need from him – and quarterback Andy Dalton completed 11 of 17 for 151 yards and two touchdowns, both to tight end Juwan Johnson. But David Johnson's lost fumble took points off the board in the second quarter – he lost the ball on third-and-1 from the Falcons' 15-yard line – and turnovers continue to be an issue that this team seemingly can't avoid. Fortunately, the Saints were clean enough for that one to not end up being costlier. Taysom Hill's 68-yard touchdown pass to Rashid Shaheed was a thing of beauty, and another big play that the rookie receiver has put on his burgeoning resume.

DEFENSE: Eighteen points allowed isn't a bad day. In fact, it's a day that most defenses – including the Saints' – will take and be happy with, because it's a day that should, and did, lead to victory. But you can't totally be happy when you can't stop the run against a team you don't believe can throw, and that's what happened Sunday. Atlanta ran for 231 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries, an alarming total considering New Orleans effectively was able to shut down rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder in the passing game (13 of 26 for 97 passing yards). The Saints couldn't come up with at least three possible interceptions – rookie cornerback Alontae Taylor tantalizingly came close to claiming his first NFL interception about three times – but when the defense had to have a play, safety Justin Evans forced a fumble that cornerback Bradley Roby recovered in midair, and it helped save the day for the defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Quiet day in the return, kicking and coverage games. That's not a bad thing, because the wrong kind of explosive play could have been a game-changer in what was a snug contest. Still believe it's a matter of time before Shaheed pops a punt return for a touchdown, and that'll be something to be mindful of in the last three games.

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