Having entered Thursday’s game trailing the New Orleans Saints by two games in the NFC South standings, this was a big matchup for the reigning NFC champion Atlanta Falcons with regards to both the divisional and wild card races. Atlanta would pick up the much-needed victory, outscoring the Saints 10-0 in the fourth quarter to win by the final score of 20-17.
Matt Ryan was picked off three times on the night, but the Falcons defense was able to meet the challenge when they were needed the most. Deion Jones‘ interception of Drew Brees with 1:25 remaining preserved the Falcons’ lead, moving Atlanta to 8-5 on the season and moving them to within a game of the Saints (9-4).
The interception capped what was a productive night for Jones, who also accounted for 13 combined tackles (three for loss) and two pass breakups.
The game was tight throughout, with neither team leading by more than seven at any point in the game. The two teams would exchange field goals in the first quarter, with Saints kicker Will Lutz’s 34-yarder being matched by Matt Bryant’s 28-yard field goal. The Saints and Falcons would match scores in the second quarter as well, beginning with Devonta Freeman’s 1-yard touchdown run that gave Atlanta a 10-3 lead with 4:29 remaining in the period.
New Orleans would score less than three minutes later, as Brees and Tommylee Harris connected on a 26-yard touchdown pass. After intercepting a Matt Ryan pass the Saints had the chance to score more points, but a penalty for illegal formation wiped out Lutz’s field goal from 46 yards out and ended the half. The loss of those three points wound up having a significant impact on the outcome.
Ryan would throw interceptions that ended each of the Falcons’ first two series of the second half, with the first being turned into seven points by the Saints offense.
Brees’ 1-yard pass to Michael Thomas gave New Orleans a 17-10 lead with 13:10 remaining in the third quarter, and that would be the last of the scoring until Ryan’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu with 9:55 remaining in the game. Bryant’s 52-yard field goal with 3:49 remaining would be the game-winning points, thanks to Jones ending the Saints’ final drive of the night with his interception.
While Ryan completed 15 of his 27 passes, throwing for 221 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, Brees had a better night leading up to his lone interception. Brees completed 26 of his 35 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns, with the aforementioned Thomas catching 10 of those passes for 117 yards and a touchdown.
Next weekend the Saints host the Jets, and the Falcons will visit Tampa Bay on Monday Night Football.