As of right now Deion Jones is this season’s MVP for the Atlanta Falcons. Jones’ interception of Drew Brees in the end zone to preserve the 20-17 lead to defeat the New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night Football at the Benz.
“I think he’s going to be a guy that a lot of people know about for a long time. He’s a really good player and made a great play right there,” said Falcons’ QB Matt Ryan about Jones’ game saving pick. The second yard linebacker from LSU’s play was one of many plays by both sides that were part of an entertaining roller coaster of a game.
The defending NFC champs are in a tooth and nail fight not only for the division but also for the playoffs. Coming into the game the Falcons were two games out of first place with the Saints holding the division lead and Carolina a game ahead of them. Atlanta is also currently the seventh seed in the playoffs following last week’s loss to Minnesota.
Usually high scoring affairs between the two, this was a defensive affair. The 37 points combined was less than the Falcons alone score in each of last week’s game with the Saints combined numbers not being far behind.
But sometimes defense is good even if you’re an offensive kind of guy. Instead of long bombs, wild runs and acrobatics involved in this rivalry – at least in the past ten years it matched up two of the league’s best QBs, running games and young defenses that saw a lot of ball movement but limited points. Oh yes, and there was a lot of drama.
With under a minute to go in the half Ryan was leading Atlanta into field goal range when Marshon Lattimore who returned the ball to the Atlanta 29 with four seconds to go in the half with the score tied 10-10 intercepted him. Wil Lutz kicked the 47-yard field goal as time expired but hold everything. A flag. The Saints were penalized for an illegal formation and a ten second runoff ended the first half and the Saints’ surprise rally.
Beginning with his last pass of the half Ryan went through a tough stretch as he threw three interceptions on three consecutive series – two on back-to-back plays. The result gave the Saints a short field to work with as they took the lead early in the third quarter as Brees hit Michael Thomas from a yard out less than two minutes into the half. After that the Atlanta defense took over.
The hard hitting fast Falcons defense caused problems for New Orleans the whole game. There was a lot of hype coming into the game over both teams’ two-headed monsters in the backfield. New Orleans’ combo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara has taken the pressure off of Brees who is on the precipice of holding al major passing records. In fact this season he’s thrown for less yards going back to his early days in San Diego. Brees was kept below the 300-yard mark once again and the running game that was non-existent until the draft of Kamara this season was shut down on the first series as he was knocked out of the game with a concussion. The newly potent running game was shut down as Atlanta held the Saints to only 49 yards on the ground.
The three interceptions of Ryan is what actually kept the game close causing a ten-point turnaround. The Falcons missed out on a field goal opportunity at the end of the first half because of the interception and the second one to open the half gave the Saints a short field leading to Brees’ TD pass to Michael Thomas.
“There are nights that are like that, but those don’t define the outcome of the game. How you respond to those situations defines who you are as a player and who you are as a team. I thought that was critical for us as a team tonight to be able to respond on both sides of the ball. To make plays and to just gut it out and find a way to win,” Said Ryan about his run of interceptions. “Matt’s cool, calm, and collected. Some of those were mishaps, and we just bounced back and stuck together,” added Mohammed Sanu
This was your typical Falcons – Saints game. No matter how bad these teams have been in their history – and they’ve been bad, this game has always been memorable for one reason or another. In the past ten years these two have been elite teams minus a year or two due to injury and the match up is intense.
While everyone was losing their mind after the second interception, the Falcons mounted an extended drive down to the Saints nine when Ryan was intercepted in the end zone. Despite this the Atlanta defense stepped up their game as New Orleans’ third down efficiency was 3-of-10. Atlanta tied the score at the 9:55 mark as Ryan hit Sanu in the back of the end zone from five yards out.
The Atlanta defense held New Orleans to a three-and-out and took four minutes off the clock to set up what was the game winning field goal 52-yard field goal. But wait – there’s more.
With less than four minutes to play the Saints got the ball back and started driving. Brees went 4-of-6 to drive the Saints to the Atlanta 11 even converting on fourth down on a quarterback sneak. With a second and ten at the Atlanta 11 Brees tried to hit Josh Hill in the back of the end zone. Instead Jones did an acrobatic jump intercepting the ball, flipping and landing on his shoulders with the interception with 1:30 to go. “I just saw him leap and take it. It was awesome. I knew he had a crazy vertical. He’s a freak athlete,” Keanu Neal said about the interception. But wait there’s more.
On second and seven from their 23 Freeman took the handoff going over left tackle when he fumbled the ball. What seemed like an eternity the ball sat on the turf before Wes Schweitzer fell on the loose ball recovering for the Falcons. A 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty called on Saints’ coach Sean Payton allowed Atlanta to take a knee and hold on for the win. “I’m so thankful for [Wes] Schweitzer. That was a good play, and I appreciate that. We got the win so I’m happy,” said Freeman.
“We still take it one day and one game at a time. We never look too far ahead. We can enjoy the moment right now and then when we get our ten days off and focus on the next team. You can’t look too far ahead and you can’t be thinking about the playoffs right now when you are still in the regular season,” said Falcons’ safety Ricardo Allen about the win. The Falcons have a break until the following Monday when they head to Raymond James Stadium to play division rival Tampa Bay. Monday’s kickoff is 8:25pm and will be on ESPN.
– Dave Weinthal
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