Falcons stay in playoff hunt with win over Saints
The Atlanta Falcons kept their playoff hopes alive with a 20-17 victory against the New Orleans Saints in the NFL.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw a trio of interceptions on Thursday, but it was the only pick by Drew Brees that proved most costly for the Saints.
Saints QB Brees was intercepted by Falcons linebacker Deion Jones in the end zone with 1:25 remaining to help the Falcons seal a win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Brees had driven the Saints (9-4) to the Falcons 11-yard line, but his second-down pass to backup tight end Josh Hill was picked by Jones.
The win by the Falcons (8-5) not only kept them alive for a playoff berth, but ensured they stay in the hunt for the NFC South title.
If the Falcons win out, they will claim the division, but a second matchup with the Saints in New Orleans on Christmas Eve looms.
The Saints played most of the game without rookie running back Alvin Kamara, who suffered a concussion on the opening series of the game.
Kamara had scored six touchdowns over the last six weeks, but had just 27 yards from scrimmage on four touches on Thursday.
Without Kamara, the Saints managed just 50 rushing yards as Brees went 26 of 35 for 271 yards and two touchdowns, but the costly interception. While Ryan struggled, Devonta Freeman picked up the slack for the Falcons offense with 91 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Though Ryan struggled, he did lead a pair of scoring drives in the fourth quarter to lift the Falcons to victory.
THURSDAY GAMES ARE TERRIBLE FOR THE ROAD TEAM
Before Thursday's game reached half-time, the Saints lost several players. Running back Alvin Kamara, guard Senio Kelemete, rookie defensive end Trey Hendrickson, linebacker A.J. Klein and safety Kenny Vaccaro all left with injuries.
The NFL went to season-long Thursday games in 2006, adding to what had previously been just two Thursday games -- both on Thanksgiving. Since then, there have been a plethora of season-ending injuries on Thursday -- including Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt last year and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman this year.
If the NFL was actual serious about player safety, the league would ditch Thursday games. Players do not like them. Coaches do not like them. But they make money for television which is the only reason there are Thursday games the entire season. As long as the NFL makes money, who cares how many players get injured?
NFC SOUTH DEFENSES ARE LEGIT
Three of the NFL's top 12 defenses are in the NFC South. The Carolina Panthers (8-4) have the league's sixth-best unit. The Falcons rank eighth and the Saints are 12th. Both the Falcons and Saints defenses played well on Thursday.
Ryan struggled against the Saints, going 15 of 27 for 221 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions.
The Saints began the second half with their second interception of Ryan as Chris Banjo took the ball away from Austin Hooper. That interception led to a short touchdown pass from Brees to Michael Thomas, who finished with 10 catches for 117 yards.
SAINTS PENALTIES WERE THE FALCONS' BEST OFFENSE
The Falcons gained nine first downs courtesy of Saints penalties, including a questionable roughing the passer call on Sheldon Rankins that extended Atlanta's first touchdown drive. While engaged with a Falcons offensive lineman, Rankins fell into Ryan as he threw the ball and both landed on the turf. It was incidental contact, at best, but a flag was thrown. Instead of punting after Ryan's pass on third-and-11 was incomplete, the drive continued and the Falcons capitalised with a touchdown.
There were some legitimate Saints penalties, but also a few ticky-tack calls as NFL officials continue to act like they think fans come to see them toss yellow flags. In total, the Saints were flagged 11 times for 87 yards while the Falcons were called for four penalties for 35 yards.
"Without saying we got robbed, without saying we're the better team, they have to come to us in two weeks," Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said following the game.