On a night that saw the Falcons offense struggle, it was the defense that took over the game.
The Atlanta Falcons (11-1) defeated the New Orleans Saints (5-7) for the first time in four tries by a score of 23-13.
The Falcons defense intercepted Drew Brees five times – the first time in Brees’ career he’s thrown five interceptions. Brees was also held without a touchdown pass for the first time in 54 games.
The Falcons started the game by immediately jumping to a 17-0 lead over the Saints.
On the first drive of the game, Atlanta put up 71 rushing yards on New Orleans – Michael Turner was good for 43 of those yards along with a touchdown, and Jacquizz Rodgers made up for for the remaining 28.
Turner’s touchdown gave him 58 for his career with the Falcons – the most touchdowns for a player in franchise history. For the game, he had 83 yards and a touchdown on 12 attempts.
However, after that impressive drive, Atlanta’s offense went missing. They made the New Orleans defense look like world beaters instead of the worst-ranked defense in the league.
The Saints got on the board with an 11-play, 80-yard drive in the second quarter that was capped off with a Mark Ingram touchdown from a yard out.
New Orleans had an opportunity to put another touchdown on the board to come within one score at halftime, but they failed to do so due to poor clock management.
Darren Sproles had a seven-yard touchdown reception, but Jimmy Graham was called for offensive pass interference. A couple of plays later, Brees threw a checkdown to Sproles in the middle of the field and time expired since the Saints had no timeouts available.
Atlanta, one of the best third-down teams heading into this game, converted just one of eleven third downs. The offense totaled only 283 yards against a defense that allowed over 450 yards per game.
The ineptitude on offense allowed the Saints to put up 13 unanswered points, making it a 17-13 lead. However, Matt Bryant hit field goals from 29 and 55 yards out to put the game away.
Matt Ryan missed the mark several times, completing just 18 of 33 passes for a season-low 165 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons’ top three receivers combined for just 10 catches, 126 yards, and a touchdown – a 17-yard reception by Tony Gonzalez.
Luckily for the Falcons, the defense picked up the slack.
Asante Samuel was active despite having an injured shoulder, but he left the game in the first quarter. Chris Owens stepped in and made several plays.
William Moore was the defense’s most valuable player, notching two interceptions to go along with team-high 11 tackles. Jonathan Babineaux, Thomas DeCoud, and Sean Weatherspoon each had an interception as well.
The win all but wraps up the NFC South for the Falcons and puts a dagger in the playoff hopes of the Saints.
Next up for the Falcons: the Carolina Panthers in Bank of America Stadium. Atlanta will have a long rest to prepare for that game.