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Other Week 14 Game Recaps

Week 14 Game Recap: New Orleans Saints 17, Atlanta Falcons 20

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New Orleans Saints

It is rare to see a prime matchup for a Thursday Night Football game, but that is exactly what we got from a Saints and Falcons teams fighting to win the division. Unfortunately for the Saints, they were bitten by the Thursday Night injury bug and a bevy of penalties called against them that either extended Atlanta's drives or actually ended the game. The biggest blow came when the Saints lost Alvin Kamara on the first drive of the game due to a concussion. He was taken back to the locker room shortly after the protocol was initiated and then was not seen from again. The Saints were driving and well within field goal range to tie the game when Sean Peyton inexplicably called a passing play with 1:55 left in the game. Drew Brees was picked off in the end zone and Atlanta was able to run out the clock with the help of a Sean Peyton unsportsmanlike penalty. The Saints have now lost 2 of their last 3 games after winning 8 in a row. This also brings about a 3-way tie for first in the division and the Saints will take on this same Falcons team again in 16 days in a game that will go a long way in deciding the division champion. In the meantime, the Saints will take on a resurgent Jets team at home in week 15.

Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta and New Orleans traded long drives with a good mix of run and pass from each, but quality defensive back play led to series-ending field goals. After trading punts to end the first quarter, Atlanta scored on a four-and-half-minute drive that Devonta Freeman capped with a one-yard run. The Saints countered thanks to a second long kick return by Tommy Lee Lewis, who capped the second drive with a reception and run at the left sideline inside the Atlanta 10. Ryan delivered an interception at the end of the half that nearly broke the tie if not for an illegal formation penalty during the Saints’ field goal attempt that nullified the play and the time run-off ended the quarter.

New Orleans Saints

QB Drew Brees, 52 offensive snaps, Pass: 26 - 35 - 271 - 2 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 1 - 2 - 0
From the way this game started, it looked like it was going to be a high scoring affair with both quarterbacks throwing the ball all over the field and the Saints having the advantage with the superior running game. This is the point where Alvin Kamara left the game with a concussion and Brees had to deal with injuries to several receivers as well as some poor calls by the officials. Brees was looking like his old self for the majority of this game, fitting balls into tight windows, and consistently finding Michael Thomas all over the field. He connected with Thomas for 10 receptions, over 100 yards and a touchdown. That touchdown came from the 1-yard line on a clear pick play, but was completely legal based on the rules and being within 1-yard of the line of scrimmage. Thomas was open easily in the end zone for the Saints second touchdown. The first pass came to Tommylee Lewis down the left sideline for 26 yards. Lewis had broken free and caught the ball 5 yards short of the end zone. He stopped, made a move on Keanu Neal and walked into the end zone. Brees looked like he has turned back the clock on these two plays but then came the interception with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. Brees tried to hit Josh Hill up the seam for a game-winning touchdown but ended up throwing into triple coverage for an easy interception. You can understand going for the win, but with how great the running game has been all season and only needing a field goal, it seems foolish to risk throwing the ball at this point. Brees will look to rebound from the late game letdown next week against the Jets.

RB Mark Ingram, 42 offensive snaps, Rush: 12 - 49 - 0, Rec: 4 - 43 - 0 (5 targets)
After losing Alvin Kamara on the first drive of the game, it would be easy to assume that Ingram would take over lead back duties and get right back to the success he has had all season. That was not the case and Ingram actually seemed to struggle without having someone to relieve him after every few plays. Ingram is an elite athlete, but he has come accustomed to running a few plays and then getting a breather while Kamara did the same. Ingram did not break 100 total yards and did not eclipse 50 yards in either rushing or receiving today. The Falcons did a great job limiting his rushing attempts and seemingly cutting off his lanes for the jump cuts and cutbacks that he is known for. Ingram's longest rush of the day was 14 yards, but he did manage to chip in a 21-yard catch and run for a first down through the air. Ingram also got a little banged up when he took a helmet to the small of his back and needed a few plays off. It will be interesting to see how the Saints respond next week with a banged-up Ingram and Kamara in the concussion protocol.

RB Alvin Kamara, 6 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 2 - 0, Rec: 3 - 25 - 0 (3 targets)
Things were looking to be business as usual for Kamara until he took a shot to the head and was taken off the field as part of the concussion protocol. Kamara was taken to the locker room to be evaluated and then was not seen again for the rest of the game. This was a huge loss for a Saints offense that has embraced Kamara in the Darren Sproles role of a few years ago. Kamara already had a 23-yard reception before leaving with an injury that changed the entire face of this game.

WR Michael Thomas, 45 offensive snaps, Rec: 10 - 117 - 1 (14 targets)
After Kamara went down it was Thomas that stepped up for the Saints offense. The rushing attack just did not seem the same and someone needed to fill the void. Thomas has been Brees favorite target all year long and it continued again today. The duo connected on 10 of 14 targets and most importantly, one of those catches resulted in a touchdown. This is now back to back games with a touchdown catch for Thomas and that is not something that has happened since weeks 3 and 4 earlier this season. Thomas spilled out into the flat from the 1-yard line after his man in coverage ran into Josh Hill on a pick. Then it was just an easy throw and catch for Brees and Thomas as there was no defender within 5 yards of him. The rest of his catches came on crossing routes and deep outs like they have the majority of the season. There was a scary moment when Thomas fell to the turf without seeming to have been touched. Thankfully for Saints fans, he had simply been poked in the eye in coverage and only needed one play to rebound and get back on the field. It has been a tough stretch for the Saints in the past 3 games, but Thomas has stepped up and looks to be everything the Saints wanted in the receiver that replaced Brandon Cooks.

WR TommyLee Lewis, 6 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 30 - 1 (2 targets)
Outside of Michael Thomas, Brees did not really feature any other receiver in the game against Atlanta. No other receiver had more than 2 catches, while both running backs had 3 and 4 catches. Lewis makes this recap after his 26-yard touchdown catch and how silly he made Keanu Neal look in coverage. Lewis streaked down the sideline and made the catch about 5 yards short of the end zone, Neal was in perfect position to make the tackle, but Lewis stopped his momentum and Neal flew past him as he walked into the end zone for the easy score. Neal has been one of Atlanta's top tacklers all season long and Lewis made him look silly. Lewis only managed 1 more catch for 4 yards in the game, but he had already made his statement with his 26-yard touchdown catch.

Atlanta Falcons

QB Matt Ryan, 74 offensive snaps, Pass: 15 - 27 - 221 - 1 TD / 3 INT, Rush: 3 - 0 - 0
He began the game throwing slants to Julio Jones, hitting one of them for a 38-yard gain to the Saints’ 15. Saints’ penalties and Atlanta’s ground game did most of the work down the field in this series. He was forced to throw the ball away on a 3rd and 5 from the 10 after Saints coverage did its job, leading to a game-tying field goal. His second completion of the game was another slant off a quick play-fake, finding Mohamed Sanu for a first down to the Atlanta 31 early in the second quarter. On the next play, Ryan found Jones for 22 on a back shoulder fake against Lattimore after working from a tight split to work to the sideline. Ryan delivered an interception because he didn’t consider the cornerback’s position on Julio Jones when he looked to Jones as his second read. Marshon Lattimore cut off the route and crossed midfield into field goal range, but an illegal formation penalty nullified the field goal and the time run-off meant the game remained tied at the half. Ryan threw two picks in the early second half, including a terrible decision to throw to a covered receiver in the end zone. Ryan recovered on a drive that started late in the third quarter to convert a few big throws in Saints territory, including the game-tying score to Mohamed Sanu. Completions to Sanu and Jones fueled a fourth-quarter field goal drive that ended up being the margin of victory.

RB Devonta Freeman, 51 offensive snaps, Rush: 24 - 91 - 1
He earned eight cutting inside a fullback lead through a huge crease on the Falcons’ opening drive. Two plays later , and two Saints penalties later, he gained another five up the middle from a single back, two-tight end set, making a strong press to the left guard and cutting back to the right guard. He was stuffed on a toss to left end that he tried to cut back inside on the following play. He earned eight untouched outside left end on a toss near midfield during Atlanta’s third drive, picking up a good block from Justin Hardy. New Orleans stuffed Freeman on 1st and goal at the 1 on a run up the middle. Freeman followed Coleman on 3rd and goal from 1 for walk-in score off the left side. The team turned back to Freeman to get them deep into Saints territory early in the second half, but Matt Ryan threw an interception to kill the drive. Freeman slowed down as the game went on, and the team used Tevin Coleman more in the fourth quarter, including on the drive that yielded the game-winning field goal.

RB Tevin Coleman, 24 offensive snaps, Rush: 9 - 32 - 0
He fought hard through a wrap to his waist on a run around left end at the Saints’ 15 during the first drive, finishing with a gain of 6. He earned six inside left tackle on a strong cut downhill from an inside handoff from shotgun on a 2nd and 10 play during Atlanta’s second drive. He earned four from another shotgun run late in the half. He followed up two plays later with a run up the middle from a single back set on 3rd and 1 and Atlanta called a time out with 0:50 left in the half.

WR Mohamed Sanu, 54 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 83 - 1 (8 targets)
Ryan found Sanu for a play-action slant working left to right for a first down to the Atlanta 31 early in the second quarter. Sanu earned five on a quick out with 1:20 left in the half. Sanu's role grew in the second half, including the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. Sanu had a nice catch to jumpstart the drive that led to the game-winning field goal, and continues to be a mainstay in the passing game.

WR Julio Jones, 54 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 98 - 0 (11 targets)
Marshon Lattimore broke up a slant to Julio Jones during the first drive, but the corner was called for holding the receiver’s waist on the break. He earned 38 yards on a 3rd and 8 slant at the right hash against Lattimore and side-stepped a second defender while blowing past three pursuing defenders as he crossed the middle of the field. Ryan found Jones for 22 on a back shoulder fake against Lattimore after working from a tight split to work to the sideline. Ryan just missed Julio up the left sideline with Lattimore providing tight coverage. He earned a seven-yard gain with 33 seconds left on a shallow crossing route. Jones had a long gain overturned by an offensive pass interference penalty in the third quarter.

WR Taylor Gabriel, 31 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 9 - 0, Rec: 1 - 10 - 0 (1 targets)
He made a diving catch on a slant for a first down inside the Saints’ 45 and after time ran down to 12 seconds in the half, the officials called for a review of the play.

WR Marvin Hall, 10 offensive snaps (1 targets)
Ryan underthrew an open Hall during the third drive on a fade up the right sideline that the undercutting defensive back nearly picked off.

TE Austin Hooper, 50 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 23 - 0 (4 targets)
Ryan overshot Austin Hooper on a 3rd and 4 pass after working back to his left with pressure coming hard from his right, ending the second drive and forcing a punt. Hooper extended fully for the ball but let the target go through his hands. Ryan found Hooper on second down for a short gain to get inside the Saints’ 30, following up with a second throw to Hooper who shook Vacarro with a pivot inside and out to reach the 15 for a 14-yard conversion. Hooper was also the target on yet another interception early in the second half.

TE Levine Toilolo, 43 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 7 - 0 (1 targets)
Ryan found Toilolo was a release-outlet option up the right hash to get Atlanta into a first and goal near the Saints’ one.