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Observations from New Orleans Saints' 27-26 win over Atlanta Falcons

Saints offense came to life in the fourth quarter

New Orleans Saints players in action during their 2022 Week 1 game against the Atlanta Falcons.

1. 26-10: A score that will now go down in lore in the great rivalry between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. With 12:45 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo connected on a 27-yard field goal to put the Falcons up to a seemingly insurmountable 16-point lead. Up until that point, there had been no indication the Saints offense would be capable of scoring two touchdowns and convert a pair of two-point conversions. That's when Jameis Winston and the offense finally went to work. The play that innocently got the offense going in the right direction was a 26-yard pass to the right sideline that tight end Juwan Johnson hauled in at the Atlanta 49-yard line. After that play, the offense was, quite frankly, unstoppable. Three plays later, Winston hit Michael Thomas for a 3-yard touchdown pass and converted the two-point play to receiver Chris Olave to make it 26-18. There were three offensive possessions in the fourth quarter and the Saints scored on all of them, 17 points total, including Wil Lutz's game-winning 51-yard field goal with 19 seconds left. The comeback was absolutely a joy to watch for all Saints fans, especially since it was against their most bitter rival, but as we found out after the game was over, it was also historic. The Saints' largest fourth quarter comeback in franchise history occurred Sunday in Atlanta, surpassing the 15-point fourth quarter comeback against Washington in the Superdome in 2017.

2. Can't Guard Mike is back: For the first time in over 600 days, Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas lined up at his position in an NFL game. It's been a long road back for Thomas, who missed the entire 2021 season with the ankle injury and ensuing surgery. Thomas had an impressive training camp in August, as his ramp-ups progressed to where he finally took 11-on-11 reps during team drills. Those drills culminated in the joint practices up in Green Bay where we didn't know at the time, would be the last time we would see him on the field (due to a hamstring injury) until last week's practices in preparation for the season opener in Atlanta. Early on, it was apparent the chemistry between Winston and Thomas was not quite there yet. Thomas first reception didn't occur until the 11:58 mark of the third quarter in a field goal scoring drive to open up the second half. It also seemed Thomas was having trouble (along with numerous other players) trying to keep his feet on the slick turf at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Thomas then morphed back into Can't Guard Mike with two huge chunk plays of 21 and 20 yards in the fourth, culminating in two big time touchdown receptions of three and nine yards. Thomas mentioned postgame that he wished he could've had a couple of plays back but also that Sunday's performance was "just a little taste" of what was to come for the rest of the season.

3. Welcome back Pete: Continuing with the return to the team theme, we have been talking all throughout training camp who would be in the linebacker spot opposite of Demario Davis. The plan all along was to have second-year player Pete Werner fill that role. The problem has been that Werner's participation during training camp and preseason was nearly non-existent as he has been nursing a nagging groin injury. The hope was during the week however that Werner might give it a go, since he had participated in practice on a limited basis early in the week before being a full participant in Friday's practice. Well on Sunday in Atlanta, Werner came back and then some, leading the team in tackles with 11 (12 if you count special teams), a big forced fumble early in the game punching a ball out on receiver Olamide Zacchaeus, though the Saints offense was not able to capitalize on the turnover with points. His most impactful play came right before the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter when he stopped quarterback Marcus Mariota for a 4-yard loss on a zone read, a play that the Saints defense had trouble defending most of the game. Werner's presence and health will be a huge factor in how this defense will perform the rest of the season, and it was certainly good to see him out there performing at a high level especially when the game was on the line.

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