Atlanta – The New Orleans Saints hung on Thursday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
They needed a couple of standout individual performances – beginning, middle and end – in order to make it work. But the final result, a 26-18 victory over Atlanta, handed the Saints (10-2) their third consecutive NFC South Division title and allows New Orleans to cast an eye toward the NFC playoff seeding chart.
The Saints took a road trip, handled their business and walked away with a victory Thanksgiving night. Here are a few of the standouts:
OFFENSE: New Orleans didn’t have much offensive juice against the Falcons (3-9), who played their division rivals about as well defensively as any team has played the Saints this season. But in limited snaps, quarterback Taysom Hill had the biggest hand in what little offense New Orleans was able to conjure. Hill scored both Saints touchdowns in the victory – a 3-yard reception from Drew Brees in the first quarter, and a 30-yard run in the second quarter – and while he finished with 45 yards on four touches, the quality definitely overshadowed the quantity. True, he’s a backup quarterback, but he has become a valuable chess piece for the Saints, rather than a change-of-pace flash.
DEFENSE: Before Thursday’s game, three players in franchise history had combined to record five four-sack games. Defensive end Cam Jordan added his name to the list, with four against the Falcons as the Saints absolutely overwhelmed Atlanta with their pass rush. In all, New Orleans totaled nine sacks but Jordan – who had a pass defensed, four quarterback hits, four tackles for loss and six tackles – was a dominating lead man when the Saints needed him to be. On Atlanta’s final offensive drive, after the Falcons had recovered their second onside kick, Jordan sacked Matt Ryan on first down to open the drive, and five plays later, sacked him on fourth down to end it.
SPECIAL TEAMS: This is a first, because no player ever had been the standout in two phases before. But Taysom Hill is just that good at what he does. Why Hill instead of Wil Lutz, who kicked four field goals and has earned any postseason honor that comes his way? Because Hill is versatile enough as an athlete to be on the punt rush team, and he got through to deflect Ryan Allen’s first punt attempt of the game for Atlanta. The deflected punt traveled just eight yards, to Atlanta’s 30-yard line, and it set up the Saints’ first touchdown drive, which ended with…Hill’s 3-yard touchdown catch.