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Turning Point of the Game in New Orleans Saints win over Atlanta Falcons

Third-quarter forced fumble helped Saints surge to 27-26 victory over Atlanta

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

The New Orleans Saints' defense was on-its-heels, back-against-the-wall and every other clever cliché that may have applied to its position while on the road, in the third quarter of the season opener against Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

It's not that the situation didn't look good for the Saints, who went on to conjure the largest fourth-quarter comeback in franchise history in a 27-26 victory.

The situation was bordering on disastrous when the defense – which had seen the Falcons score a field goal, field goal and touchdown on their previous three possessions – took the field after New Orleans' offense had committed a turnover (Mark Ingram's lost fumble) and Atlanta began its possession at the Saints' 36-yard line with 5:11 left in the third.

A two-score deficit (23-10) appeared to be on the verge of being a three-score game, which could have taken on the appearance of insurmountable for an offense that hadn't been able to move the ball and a defense that hadn't been able to get a stop.

Until this drive.

It didn't start promising, though. The Falcons were first-and-10 from the 19 after two plays, a 2-yard run and 15-yard completion from Marcus Mariota to Drake London, and when Mariota ran for another five yards on first down to get the Falcons to the 14, it seemed just a matter of Atlanta working itself into position to visit the end zone.

But after a Mariota incompletion on second-and-5, it happened.

From the shotgun and with room aplenty to run on third down, Mariota took off and scrambled nine yards. But once he reached the Saints' 5-yard line, New Orleans' new safeties took matters into their own hands.

Marcus Maye and Tyrann Mathieu converged for the tackle and Maye expertly punched out the football. Mathieu recovered the loose ball at the 5 and just like that, the Saints were able to keep the Falcons out of the end zone.

True, the offense wasn't able to muster anything immediately after (it went three-and-out) and, yes, Atlanta turned back around and kicked a field goal to take a 26-10 lead.

But preventing the touchdown proved to be invaluable for the Saints. The defense rode the momentum from the stop and didn't allow another score after the final field goal (two forced punts and a third-down stop that helped lead to Payton Turner blocking Atlanta’s attempt at a game-winning field goal), and the offense scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth to give New Orleans one of the most improbable victories in franchise history.

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