There was an undeniable truth in coach Dennis Allen’s postgame speech to the New Orleans Saints team after it beat the Atlanta Falcons 21-18 at Caesars Superdome on Sunday: Never apologize for how you won, because they’re hard to come by. of in the NFL.
The Saints did what they needed to do, securing their fifth win of the season to keep the tiny glow of their playoff hopes burning. They shouldn’t feel bad about it, because at the end of the day that No. 5 in the win column is more important than anything else that happened on Sunday.
But if the Saints are going to get No. 6, 7 or 8, they need to find a way to improve in some areas, and that’s where we’ll start after picking through the 21-18 win with a fine-toothed comb.
Why can’t the Saints put away the layers?
The Saints had chances to bury Atlanta early, to jump out to such a commanding lead that Atlanta would have been forced to put the game in the hands of their rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder.
But New Orleans let chance after chance slip through their fingers on Sunday. This has been an ongoing problem for the team this season. The Saints have put together convincing stretches throughout the season that suggest they are as talented and skilled as many thought they would be entering the season.
However, they are equally consistent in their maddening penchant for letting momentum break, and that was the case again on Sunday.
The Saints blew several opportunities to balloon a 14-0 lead, and there were plenty of dirty hands.
After two quick touchdowns, the Saints got off to a good start on their third possession. But needing an inch on second down, right guard Cesar Ruiz missed a block that gave Grady Jarrett a clear path to drop Alvin Kamara for a 3-yard loss. The Saints then put themselves further in the hole with a fumble, which was followed by a sack on third down. Needing an inch, they ended up punting on fourth-and-17.
Their fourth possession looked more promising. After the defense stymied Atlanta in the red zone, the Saints ripped off 60 yards in six plays, pushing the ball to Atlanta’s 15 for a third-and-1. That’s when running back David Johnson, on his fifth carry of the season, fumbled the ball. the ball away, and takes at least three points from the board.
The defense got another stop, and the Saints started their fifth possession in great field position. They faced a third-and-7 at the Atlanta 43, and behind great coverage, Andy Dalton threw a pass to Jarvis Landry right at the marker. The ball hit Landry square in the hands, but he was unable to haul it in through contact from Atlanta defensive back Dee Alford. It was a tough play, but one Landry prides himself on making, and it probably cost the Saints at least three points as well.
The offense wasn’t the only contributor.
The Saints’ secondary had several chances to pick off Knight throws — two by Alontae Taylor, one by Tyrann Mathieu — that they couldn’t come up with.
New Orleans had a chance to get the ball back in the final minute of the first half, but didn’t so much as lay a hand on running back Tyler Allgeier until he had crossed the line to win on a third-and-13 tie.
Special teams also contributed: As the Saints protected a 21-10 lead in the fourth quarter, Blake Gillikin mishit a punt from his own end zone — not just short, but with little time to wait — allowing Atlanta to start a possession in field goal range .
New Orleans found what they needed late, forcing a turnover in the game’s biggest moment and then putting together a nice, clock-killing drive. But even then, the Saints couldn’t close the door as Taysom Hill fumbled a snap on a fourth-and-1 play, giving Atlanta a last-gasp chance to maneuver their way onto the field with nine seconds left.
It is unreasonable to expect an NFL team to play a perfect game. But given the number of chances the Saints had to blow the game open Sunday, is it so unreasonable to expect them to make at least one or two of those plays?
New Orleans is happy to take the win, but it would be nice to see the team build on that and discover a killer instinct at some point in the final three games.
- I charted Falcons targeting Alontae Taylor as the closest man in coverage eight times (not counting the ticky-tack pass interference penalty levied against him). He allowed just three catches, none of which went for more than nine yards. The Saints found a cornerstone player in the second round this year.
- Tight end Juwan Johnson is such an imposing physical presence. Guys his size shouldn’t be able to move like he does. He broke three tackles en route to his first touchdown of the game. Johnson is averaging a little more than four goals per game right now, but the Saints should try to find a way to double that.
- While we’re on the subject of people with a bright future: Rashid Shaheed is an absolute gem. The Saints scouting staff deserves a round of applause for that signing. It’s pretty exciting to think about the future of the Saints receiving corps with Shaheed and fellow rookie Chris Olave unleashing lightning strikes on opposing defenses.
- After drawing some flack recently for Kamara’s limited impact in games in recent weeks, the Saints deserve some credit for trying to find more creative ways to get him involved. He took one direct snap for 9 yards and a jet sweep for 13. Kamara had 23 touches, his most since Week 8 against the Raiders. Now, if they can only find a way to make him a factor in the passing game…
- Speaking of the passing game: I don’t think giving Andy Dalton a few more chances would be a bad idea. The veteran quarterback has been playing well lately, and he had another strong game on Sunday. Maybe 17 attempts weren’t enough.
- Would love to know how that umpiring team was rated after Sunday’s game. At some points they let the guys play, at other points they called fake pass interference penalties where the players barely made contact. The one against Mathieu in the first quarter was particularly violent. Fortunately, the bad calls didn’t play into the game.
- Marcus Maye has come on strong of late, just over a year away from tearing his Achilles. The play where he stripped Drake London of the football in the second quarter is the kind of play the Saints thought they would get from him this year.
- Wonder if we should be worried about Cesar Ruiz. The Saints right guard played every one of the Saints’ 55 offensive snaps, but cameras showed him talking to team medical personnel on the sideline during the Falcons’ final possession.
- At least once per game, someone from an opposing defense completely steps up and makes a play in the Saints’ backfield. On Sunday, it was Falcons rookie linebacker DeAngelo Malone, who flew in untouched and dropped Kamara for a 2-yard loss. It was a big play, as it set the Saints up in a third-and-long instead of something more manageable, and they didn’t convert.
- Too many missed tackles in the second half — Falcons rookie running back Tyler Allgeier had 101 rushing yards after contact alone — but also not enough pressure from the Saints’ defensive front. It was a bad combination that Atlanta took full advantage of.
- Speaking of Allgeier: He’s exactly the type of player the Saints need at the moment. The rookie is a strong runner with good contact balance, and the Falcons found him in the fifth round. Just my two cents, but New Orleans can’t afford to go through another draft without taking a late round pick on someone like Allgeier, or San Francisco 49ers running back Elijah Mitchell (6th round of the 2021 draft). It’s clearly not a bad investment.