Ice melted: Saints returning to playoffs after downing Falcons 17-14
Atlanta Falcons (12-3) wide receiver Roddy White decided to talk a little -- OK, maybe a lot -- of trash this week via his Twitter and let the "Aints" know that they would not come into his house and win.
Someone forgot to give the New Orleans Saints (11-4) the memo.
The Saints traveled to Atlanta on Monday night and defeated the Falcons 17-14 in a building where Matt Ryan was 19-1 as a starter in his career. Drew Brees, Pierre Thomas, and the rest of the Saints didn't care for that stat, though, as they took the win and will return to the playoffs.
On a night when the Saints were looking to stay alive in the race to repeat as NFC South champions, Brees played almost flawlessly. That is, until the fourth quarter when the Falcons intercepted last year's Super Bowl MVP on consecutive drives. One was returned for a touchdown which put Atlanta up 14-10.
That second interception did not make Brees happy, though, and he showed it by orchestrating a 13-play drive covering 92 yards and taking over seven minutes off the clock. the New Orleans defense stepped it up again as they had the whole game and forced the Falcons to punt with just under three minutes to play. Rookie tight end Jimmy Graham caught what ended up being the winning score.
Atlanta's offense never saw the ball again thanks to the legs of Thomas, who finshed the night with 63 yards on 19 carries and one touchdown.
It was a game that had a lot of emotions riding on it and started out as a defensive battle with the teams trading punts back and forth. Atlanta's potent attack led by Ryan and Michael Turner could only generate 215 yards of total offense. Ryan stayed calm throughout as he always does, but came across a defense that was determined to shatter things.
Turner was held to 48 yards on 17 carries and lost his first fumble of the season.
One of the surprise stars for the Saints ended up being much-forgotten-about wide receiver Robert Meachem. The long-ball threat from last season had his best game of the year, catching 10 passes for 101 yards. Brees ended up throwing for 302 yards on 35 of 49 passing, but the two interceptions almost did his team in again.
The scoring started with a 52-yard field goal by the Saints' Garrett Hartley, who had to feel a big sense of accomplishment watching the ball sail through the uprights. Hartley missed a 29-yard field goal against the Falcons in week three that could have won the game for the Saints in overtime.
Back and forth the game went, with many thinking that Atlanta would pull out the victory at home as they have many times since Ryan arrived in town. Coach Sean Payton knows that this is a very strong team no matter where you face them.
"The reason this is a tough team to play in the dome is because this is a real good football team," said Payton after the game.
As for Roddy White? He caught three passes for 43 yards and a touchdown, but was taken out of the rotation for the most part. Guess it's time to say "silence is golden." Even if it's on Twitter.
With the victory, the Saints are currently in line to return to the playoffs as the fifth seed in the NFC if the season ended today. A win over Tampa Bay on Sunday and a loss by the Falcons to the Carolina Panthers would escalate the Saints to NFC South champions and the number one seed in the NFC, which would mean a first-round bye and home field advantage.
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