Oh, It’s On!
Testy showdown with Atlanta sets stage for dramatic rematch on Christmas Eve
The Atlanta Falcons knew that in order to beat the New Orleans Saints in their Thursday Night Football matchup they would have to stop the Saints attack led by running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. The duo accounted for a combined 1,528 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing and 869 yards and four touchdowns receiving. The Saints night was altered on the first drive of the game, when Falcons linebacker Deion Jones delivered a helmet-to-helmet on Kamara, knocking him out of the game with a concussion. Although the hit seemed to be the type the NFL reviles, no foul was called on Jones, who went on to be a difference maker for Atlanta.
Kamara wasn’t the only Saint to leave the game injured, New Orleans also lost linebacker A.J. Klein (groin), defensive end Trey Hendrickson (ankle), safety Kenny Vaccaro (groin), guard Senio Kelemete (concussion), and defensive tackle David Onyemata (undisclosed) to injury.
Despite the loss of several starters, it looked like it was going to be another miraculous comeback by the Saints. Down 20-17 late in the fourth quarter, Brees led the Saints down the field on what looked like was sure to be a game winner with a touchdown or enough to cause overtime with a game tying field goal. He earned a first down on a quarterback sneak deep in Falcons’ territory, but Jones was able to disrupt Brees’ first down pass and intercepted his second down pass in the back of the end zone, ensuring the Falcons win.
While no NFL team can afford to overlook the upcoming week’s competition, the Saints cannot help but know the Falcons come to New Orleans in two weeks for a Christmas Eve game that will see neither team in the spirit of the season. Atlanta will be fighting for its post-season life. The Saints will be fighting for the playoffs, a division championship and a playoff home game. The Saints and Kamara will also look to show what was missing from their first matchup with their archrivals, when they were held to just 50 yards and two first downs rushing and 30 percent (3/10) on third down conversions.
At 9-4, the Saints still lead the NFC South. By sweeping Carolina, New Orleans owns the tiebreaker with the Panthers. The Black & Gold is a game ahead of Atlanta and four ahead of Tampa (4-8 entering the weekend), the Saints season-ending opponent on New Year’s Eve.
The NFL is getting the late season drama it craved by back-loading teams’ schedules with games against division opponents. The parity among the league’s teams enables the playoff race to run well into the last games of the season. When heated rivals like the Saints and Falcons have to face each other twice in 18 days with both the division title and their playoff lives on the line in the second to last game of the regular season, the league is happy.
After the mid-week game, the Saints joined the chorus of NFL players and coaches who have spoken out against playing on Thursday after a short week of recuperation and limited practice. They’ll now have a few extra days to heal up and prepare for the upcoming home games against the Jets. Kamara thinks he’ll be ready to go.
NFC South Division Standings*
Team W L PCT PF PA Home Road Div Streak Last 5
Saints 9 4 .692 370 263 5-1 4-3 3-1 1L 3-2
Panthers 8 4 .667 269 238 3-2 5-2 2-2 1L 4-1
Falcons 8 5 .615 294 261 4-3 4-2 2-1 1W 4-1
Buccaneers 4 8 .333 243 288 3-2 1-6 0-3 2L 2-3
*As of 12/8/17; Carolina plays Minnesota (10-2) and Tampa plays Detroit (6-6) Sunday at noon.