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Falcons vs. Saints instant recap: The biggest game of the year ends in a much-needed win

The Falcons needed this win badly, and they triumphed in a sloppy one against their most hated rival.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons needed this win. They had to have this win. A victory propelled them to the top of the NFC South and kept their playoff hopes alive after a 4-6 start and plenty of ugliness, while a loss more or less doomed their hopes for the year.

In a sloppy one marred by turnovers by both teams and some late down misses, the Falcons got that victory they needed, and by a comfortable nine points. With Bijan Robinson scoring two touchdowns, the defense holding New Orleans to nothing but field goals, and an absolutely massive Jessie Bates pick-six, the Falcons finally set this thing right. Now they’re in first place in the NFC South again, very much alive, and suddenly full of the post-bye promise we hoped they could show us.

There’s so much to work on and we’ll talk about this week, but you shouldn’t dwell on that right now, not with a win over the hated Saints in the books and the Falcons back in first. Enjoy a win we really wanted to see and we’ll see where the rest of the season takes us.

Here’s a drive-by-drive recap of the game you just watched.

1st Quarter

New Orleans had the ball first, and after a touchback, Alvin Kamara’s first carry lost two yards thanks to a sharp tackle from Kaden Elliss. Kamara then picked up five yards on second down, and then a short pass to Chris Olave was stopped cold by Jessie Bates. Punt, and Dee Alford returned it about ten yards.

Desmond Ridder’s first pass went to Bijan Robinson, who couldn’t corral it. On second down, Robinson got about five yards on the ground. Ridder’s third down throw to Drake London was a little behind him and London didn’t stop in time, and thus incomplete. Punt.

On first down, Derek Carr had plenty of time and hit a leaping Chris Olave downfield for a huge gain. Taysom Hill then took it for about five yards on first down, and then Carr hit Rashid Shaheed for a first down. Kamara then got brought down by Elliss for a loss. Carr then hit Olave for about six yards, and then a toss play to Kamara went for about six yards and a first down. Three yards on first down for Jamaal Williams followed, and then a pass to Williams was in the dirt and popped out. On third down, Carr kind of threw it away, setting up a field goal try. The Saints inevitably hit the 25 yard try. 3-0 Saints.

A pair of Robinson runs picked up a first down. Ridder then tossed one downfield over the middle and Drake London made a very nice catch. Robinson then got two yards on first down, and then on second down Ridder rolled out and didn’t see anything he liked, throwing it away. Cordarrelle Patterson then picked up five yards on third down, setting up a 4th and 2. Ridder faked a handoff and kept it, but was stopped well short of the first down marker. Turnover on downs.

Juwan Johnson made the grab on first down to move the Saints downfield swiftly. Hill then ran for a first down, but a holding call backed them up. Then Dee Alford knocked the ball out of Olave on the pass, with Arnold Ebiketie almost getting home. A 35 yard pass from Carr to Hill followed, with a first down quick swing to Juwan Johnson picking up two yards. Kamara caught a swing pass and was stopped three yards shy of a first down. On third down, Carr threw it right into Jessie Bates’ waiting hands and he returned it all the way for a touchdown. 7-3 Falcons.

DeMarcco Hellams was called for taunting to give the Saints some yards—he loves trash talking and I do enjoy that, even though with an injured New Orleans player it wasn’t the best timing—and then Hill ran for eight yards on a draw. Kamara picked up a first down on a five yard run, and then Carr’s second down pass was incomplete. Alford was called for illegal contact on Olave, however, and the ticky tack call gvae New Orleans a first down. Hill kept it again, but Tre Flowers ensured he went nowhere.

2nd Quarter

Shaheed caught the second down ball with pressure coming for Carr, picking up three yards on the play. On third down, pressure came in hot again and Carr threw it into the dirt. The 52 yard field goal try was good, however, and it was 7-6 Falcons.

Ridder hit London over the middle again for about 15 yards and a first down over the middle. Tyler Allgeier maybe got a yard on first down, and then Ridder didn’t see anything and ran for about 15 yards to pick up the first down. A swing pass to Robinson went a yard or two, and then Patterson went nowhere on second down. Kyle Pitts then caught the Ridder pass for a first down. A quick toss to Robinson picked up three yards on first down, and then Ridder kept it again and ran for about 15 more yards and another first down. A quick swing to Scotty Miller got about four yards, and then Bijan Robinson took the carry to the house on a well-blocked run for a touchdown. 14-6 Falcons.

Juwan Johnson dropped a short, high ball from Derek Carr on first down. Kamara then picked up about seven yards on second down, and Carr found Olave for a first down. Kaden Elliss then took down the back for yet another tackle for loss. On second down, Carr got rid of it quickly to Olave, who was able to juke his way to a (questionable) first down. Bud Dupree then sniffed out the Hill run and took him down for a loss of a yard, and then a pass to Shaheed fell incomplete and he came up limping. Unfortunately on third down, Olave was wide open and picked up the first down and more. Hill then picked up maybe three yards, but a holding call backed the Saints up and negated the play. Olave caught it for about ten yards, and then the second down pass to Kamara wasn’t close and Elliss knocked him down playing through it. Carr then missed Johnson entirely to set up a field goal try. Grupe hit to to make it 14-9 Falcons.

Ridder managed to escape pressure and eventually found Van Jefferson down the sideline for a first down. Robinson got tripped up on the toss but he made it a yard or so, and then Patterson fought through contact to pick up a first down. Robinson then got the handoff and was dropped for a loss. A quick throw to Keith Smith picked up about five or six yards on second down, and then Ridder kept it and scrambled for a first down after escaping pressure. Robinson then took the handoff and maybe got a yard, and on second down the target to Robbinson was too low and he didn’t come up with it. Patterson then plowed through contact to pick up a first down. Another handoff to Patterson got close to another first down, and then Robinson picked up the two yards to get Atlanta another set of downs. Unfortunately, Ridder threw an interception on the next play past the extended arm of Robinson, with some possible route confusion complicating the turnover, and dueling calls on two testy teams canceled one another out.

New Orleans kneeled it out.

3rd Quarter

A quick handoff to Patterson kicked things off for the Falcons, and he got about a yard before being picked up and suplexed with no call. Fortunately, Ridder then hit Kyle Pitts over the middle for a first down, with Pitts holding on through contact. Robinson then took it and got the edge, rumbling for a first down and another five yards before he was tripped up and fell on what otherwise might have been a touchdown. Allgeier then picked up about four yards on first down, and then a Ridder keeper on an option play went absolutely nowhere and lost three yards. The pass was then tipped and Atlanta had to punt.

Jamaal Williams took the first carry for a couple of yards on first down, and then Kamara picked up four yards on second down. Carr scrambled for a first down and fumbled it away badly, but A.T. Perry picked it up in a lucky break. Hill then took it about two yards, and then Olave tried to make a leaping sideline catch but A.J. Terrell got him out of bounds before he got his feet down, and Olave was seemingly hurt on the play. Then Carr hit Johnson for a first down on the next play. Another Hill carry went for a couple of yards before Nate Landman drilled him, but a quick pass to Kamara went for much further than it should have thanks to a missed tackle by Elliss. Kamara then picked up three yards on first down, and then Hill got dumped after a very quick gain by Alford. A defensive holding call on Okudah gave the Saints a first down. A first down run followed, with Bates dumping Lynn Bowden Jr. before he could get a touchdown. A false start backed the Saints up five yards, but on the next play they got a first down on a quick pass that was negated by an offensive pass interference on Juwan Johnson. A quick pass to Kamara gained about nine yards, setting up a 3rd and 14 for New Orleans. Arnold Ebiketie then got home on third down for a sack, setting up a 4th and 22 where Grupe just hit the field goal try to make it 14-12 Falcons.

Patterson’s return went out past the 25 to the 27 or so. Ridder’s first pass was just tipped again, falling to the turf, but then Robinson took it about 13 yards on second down to get the drive moving in earnest. Ridder then hit Robinson for a short pass that he took for about eight yards, and then Robinson took it again. Ridder then threw another interception to end the drive.

Hill caught the sideline pass and rumbled for a first down and then some. Kamara then took it for 17 yards on the next play, and then Hill kept it for a first down run but then fumbled it away and the Falcons recovered. Turnover!

4th Quarter

Robinson took it five yards on first down, and then Allgeier got six yards for a first down. Allgeier then got it again to pick up seven yards, A very quick sideline pass to London was followed by a 13 yarder over the middle to London. Patterson took it about four yards, and then Allgeier maybe got a yard on the next play. On a critical third down, Ridder hit London and London put a defender on skates to pick up a first down and many more. On the next play, Ridder was under pressure and threw it up nicely for Bijan Robinson, who caught it deep and glided into the end zone for an easy touchdown. 21-12 Falocns.

A quick Bowden carry picked up about 20 yards, unfortunately. After a short gain, Kamara then took a screen 16 yards, and then Kamara picked up about seven yards on first down. On the next play, Ryan Ramcyzk got a holding call against him which backed the Saints up ten yards, and then Hellams made a nice open field tackle to set up a 3rd and 6. Pressure on Carr forced the Saints into a bad situation, and Williams caught it for a couple of yards before Elliss swiftly took him down. Williams also appeared to be injured on the play. The field goal was just good. 21-15 Falcons.

A few yards on first down for Robinson, and then Allgeier took it for 12 yards and a first down. Allgeier then took it four yards on first down, and then picked up a first down and more again on the next play. Then Robinson came back in and took it about nine yards, but a false start on Jake Matthews backed the Falcons up five yards, but it didn’t matter, because Allgeier plowed ahead for a first down. Patterson then took it a couple of yards, and then Ridder kept it for a run that went maybe a yard, and then Allgeier picked up four to set up a fourth down and a Younghoe Koo field goal try. 24-15 Falcons.

Carr missed his first down throw badly. He missed again on the second one, with a Saints receiver looking for a flag on Dee Alford he did not get. Carr did zip one in for a first down on third down to some guy named Kirkwood, and then hit him again for about seven yards. And then Juwan Johnson picked up a first down with the clock still running. An A.T. Perry sideline ball picked up seven and Perry got out of bounds. Carr then threw it out of bounds with nobody open, and then Johnson dropped the third down pass after Richie Grant knocked it out. On fourth down, Blake Grupe missed the fourth down field goal try, and the game was over.