It all came down to week 18 for the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. The Black and Gold closed the regular season at home in the Caesars Superdome against the Atlanta Falcons. It started as a shootout with three total touchdowns in the first 11 minutes as the Falcons were up 14-7 but the New Orleans went on a 41-3 run that resulted in a 48-17 win that helped the Saints finish the regular season 9-8.
HOW IT HAPPENED:
The Saints received the opening kickoff and picked up a first down on the first play from scrimmage with a screen pass to Taysom Hill. Derek Carr got sacked by Arnold Ebiketie on third down and New Orleans punted the ball away.
On 3rd & 5, Desmond Ridder hit a wide-open Scotty Miller down the right sideline for a pitch and catch for 56 yards to the 18-yard line of New Orleans. Four plays later, on 2nd & 8, Ridder rolled out right, set his feet, and found tight end Jonnu Smith for the 15-yard touchdown to put Atlanta up by seven with 8:42 to go in the first quarter.
Carr connected with Pro Bowl receiver Rashid Shaheed for a gain of 20 yards. An unnecessary roughness penalty on the play made it 1st & 10 from the Atlanta 41-yard line. New Orleans moved into the red zone with a first-down catch by Hill and A.T. Perry rebounded over Atlanta’s star cornerback A.J. Terrell for the 18-yard touchdown.
It only took two plays for the Falcons to take the 14-7 lead as Bijan Robinson made the catch on a wheel route and ran past everyone for a 71-yard touchdown.
New Orleans responded with a 16-play, 75-yard drive that took 8:09 off the clock. Coach Dennis Allen elected to go for it on 4th & 2 at the Atlanta 26 and Carr hit Juwan Johnson in the middle of the field for a gain of 12 yards. Rookie Kendre Miller reached over the goalline for the three-yard score to tie the game at 14.
Saints punter Lou Hedley pinned the Falcons at their seven-yard line. The defense forced a three-and-out and Falcons punter Bradley Pinion had a short 27-yard punt that started the next drive of the Saints at the Atlanta 38. New Orleans settled for a 24-yard field goal by Blake Grupe to take their first lead with 56 seconds left in the second quarter.
Atlanta put together a 10-play, 63-yard drive to close out the first half as Younhoe Koo tied the game at 17 with a 30-yard field goal.
The first possession in the second half for the Falcons was quick as Alontae Taylor intercepted Ridder’s pass on the third play and returned the ball to the 25-yard line.
On 2nd & 11, Chris Olave made the juggling catch over the defender for the 26-yard touchdown to give the Saints the 24-17 lead.
New Orleans extended their lead after a three-and-out by Atlanta. Miller began the drive with an 18-yard run and Carr found Johnson for a 20-yard gain two plays later. Shaheed capped it off with a 39-yard catch to give the Saints the 31-17 lead six minutes into the third quarter.
Following that Saints touchdown, Atlanta had its longest possession with a 14-play, 73-yard drive. Ridder connected with Drake London for 21 yards on 3rd & 9 Robinson got it to the New Orleans 23-yard line with a four-yard run on 3rd & 1. New Orleans’ defense stood strong inside the three as they stuffed London and Robinson, then the pass to Robinson on 4th & GOAL fell incomplete.
New Orleans started at their one-yard line and drove 92 yards in 12 plays. Carr went to Perry for a 29-yard gain to end the third quarter and then Hill carried the ball for a pick up of 27 yards. Carr’s pass fell incomplete on 3rd & 3 from the Atlanta six and Grupe kicked another 24-yard field goal to put the Saints up 34-17.
Ridder wasn’t ready for the snap and Payton Turner recovered the loose ball at the 10-yard line of the Falcons. Perry hauled in his second touchdown of the day, this time from six yards away to give the Saints the 24-point advantage with nine minutes to go in the game.
The New Orleans defense held strong the rest of the way as Tyrann Mathieu intercepted backup Logan Woodside and returned it to the one-yard line with 72 seconds left. Jamaal Williams scored a touchdown the next play as the Saints improved to 9-8 with a 48-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons
BIG NUMBER: 34
New Orleans continued their improvements in the red zone as the Saints scored 34 points in the redzone (4 TDs, 2 FGs). That efficiency led to a 48-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Derek Carr
The Saints starting quarterback was sharp and wasn’t afraid of going deep and giving his receivers chances to catch the football. Carr finished the day 22/28 for 264 yards and four touchdowns.
UP NEXT: The Saints won against their division rival but didn’t win the NFC South as the Panthers lost to the Buccaneers 9-0. The Black and Gold still have a chance at the seven-seed but that will call for the Cardinals and Bears to win against Seattle and Green Bay.