Saints hang on for 21-16 win over Falcons; clinch playoff berth

Saints hang on for 21-16 win over Falcons; clinch playoff berth
New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) works in the pocket against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) (Source: John Bazemore)

ATLANTA (WAFB) - The New Orleans Saints traveled to Atlanta to take on the Falcons in a divisional showdown featuring teams that just went at it a couple of weeks ago.

The Saints (10-2) held on for the 21-16 win over the Falcons (4-8) for a sweep this season. The Saints clinched a playoff berth with the victory because the Bears lost earlier in the day. It is the fourth consecutive season the Black and Gold have reached the postseason, a first in franchise history. It was their ninth straight win this season.

Taysom Hill was 27-of-37 for 232 yards and two touchdowns. It was the first touchdown passes of his career. He also fumbled twice and the Falcons recovered one of those. He also ran the ball 14 times for 83 yards. The touchdown passes went to Tre’Quan Smith and Jared Cook. Hill is 3-0 as the starter in the absence of Drew Brees.

Hill’s main target through the air was Michael Thomas. He had nine catches for 105 yards. Thomas made career catch No. 500 to become the fastest player to reach that milestone. He did it in just 67 games. Julio Jones and Anquan Bolden were previously tied for the record at 80 games.

Alvin Kamara was the team’s leading rusher. He had 15 carries for 88 yards and one touchdown. He also had two catches for nine yards.

The Saints’ defense kept the Falcons out of the end zone until the fourth quarter to snap a streak of 42 consecutive possessions without allowing a touchdown. It was the first touchdown allowed by the unit since the opening drive against the 49ers on Nov. 15.

The defense was also able to harass quarterback Matt Ryan for most of the day. The unit recorded three sacks, five tackles for loss, and eight quarterback hits.

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The Saints won the toss but deferred. The defense started out by forcing two consecutive three-and-outs. The second time the Saints had the ball was a special drive for Hill. Two plays after taking a sack, he ran for a 43-yard gain. It was the longest run of his career and set up an even more special moment. On the very next play, Hill connected with Smith for a 15-yard touchdown. It was his first touchdown pass in the NFL and capped off a 7-play, 87-yard drive that gave the Saints a 7-0 lead with 7:01 remaining in the first quarter.

The Falcons responded with a 53-yard field goal to make it 7-3. The Saints then put together a decent drive and tried a 40-yard field goal that resulted in a rare miss by Wil Lutz. It went wide right. Lutz appeared to slip on the attempt and grabbed the back of his leg after getting up. He then went to the medical tent but was able to return. After each team had another possession, Atlanta was successful on a 30-yard field goal to pull within a point, 7-6, with 4:51 left in the second quarter.

A 37-yard run by Kamara on the first play of the Saints’ next possession sparked a drive that culminated in an 11-yard touchdown pass from Hill to Cook to put New Orleans up 14-6 with 1:45 remaining in the half. Atlanta was able to make a 28-yard field goal as time expired to make it 14-9 at halftime.

The Saints got the ball first in the second half and put together another nice drive. Hill was able to get enough for a first down on a fourth-and-one. Later, Kamara had back-to-back good runs. The second was an 11-yard touchdown to make it 21-9. It was his ninth rushing touchdown and 13th overall for the season.

Former LSU wide receiver Russell Gage scored Atlanta’s only touchdown of the game. He caught a 10-yard pass from Ryan to make it 21-16 with 7:43 remaining. The Falcons later had a chance to win it at the end but Ryans heave to the end zone as time expired was incomplete.

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