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New Orleans Saints returnees Jameis Winston, Michael Thomas, Wil Lutz provide boosts in 27-26 victory over Atlanta

Second-year linebacker Pete Werner leads the defense


Hard to narrow down the heroes in a 27-26, comeback victory on the road when a team erases a 16-point, fourth-quarter deficit on the road.

The New Orleans Saints didn't lack for standout performers in the season-opening win against the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. They needed all of them to scratch out a win that was shocking and appeared improbable, based on the first three quarters, but became almost inevitable once they found a total groove in the fourth quarter.

OFFENSE: My assessment, my rules. So instead of one player, we go with two and there's no way anyone could debate me off the return stories authored by quarterback Jameis Winston and receiver Michael Thomas. Winston missed the last 10 games last season after tearing his ACL, and Thomas missed all of last season with an ankle surgery and rehab that actually had roots from the 2020 season. Each was stunningly fabulous in the fourth; Winston, who completed 23 of 34 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions, in the game, completed 13 of 15 passes (one spike) for 213 yards and two touchdowns in the final 12:41. And Thomas caught all five of his passes for 57 yards and two touchdowns in the second half, including both scores in the fourth quarter. New Orleans' offense received a sample of what the two can provide even while they continue to work on their chemistry.

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DEFENSE: The reason that New Orleans is so high on second-year linebacker Pete Werner was clear Sunday: a game-high 13 tackles, including one tackle for loss, and a forced fumble that was recovered by cornerback Bradley Roby. Werner is the complement that the Saints like pairing with Demario Davis, a linebacker who's capable of getting to the ball and making something happen once he arrives. His forced fumble put New Orleans in position to score; unfortunately, kicker Wil Lutz didn't convert a 44-yard field goal attempt. But, just as much, Werner helped keep the Falcons off the scoreboard and in the end, that proved critical for the Saints.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Speaking of return stories, Lutz came back exactly how you'd expect him to. True, he missed the 44-yard attempt in the first half. But there's no doubting the clutch of Lutz: His 51-yard field goal with 19 seconds left was near-perfect and capped the 17-0 scoring spree to finish out the game. Lutz provides the cool, confidence and accuracy that New Orleans lacked at the position last year, when he missed the season due to a core injury and surgery, and the Saints cycled through four kickers while looking for an adequate stand-in. The game-winner was so impressive that it was easy to overlook his 49-yarder in the third quarter, which pulled the Saints to within 16-10 as the offense attempted to find its bearings.

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