NFL Nation: 2013 Week 12 NO at ATL Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: New Orleans Saints

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
11:40
PM ET

ATLANTA -- A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 17-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons, which moved them to 9-2 on the season.

What it means: This was survival, plain and simple. The Saints didn't necessarily look “sloppy” or “sluggish” on this Thursday night as they did in the same situation last year. Their offense and defense came up with plenty of big plays throughout the night. But New Orleans obviously had to slug this one out against a Falcons team that came out with more energy to start the game.

The Saints will gladly take it. From the day the schedule first came out, they knew this short-week game on the road at Atlanta would be one of the toughest tests of the entire season. And they'll take the win any way they could get it.

Stock watch: It didn't seem like defensive end Cameron Jordan's stock could get much higher during this breakout season. But he was the biggest difference-maker on the field with 2.5 sacks on a night when the Saints needed him badly. Jordan's final sack stalled a Falcons drive after Atlanta had crossed midfield late in the fourth quarter. Jordan now has 9.5 sacks this year and should have punched his ticket to the Pro Bowl on Thursday night.

Go-to guys: In the process, Jordan stole top billing away from two Saints offensive standouts, tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Pierre Thomas. Graham caught five passes for 100 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown (when he burned safety William Moore on a double move, then dragged him into the end zone the final few yards). This was Graham's sixth 100-yard game of the season, which is tied for most in franchise history, tied for most by any tight end in NFL history and tied for most by any player in the league this year.

The underrated Thomas, meanwhile, was a go-to guy all night with 10 carries for 73 yards and five catches for 57 yards. In the process, he moved into fourth place on the Saints' all-time rushing list with 3,460 yards, moving ahead of Rueben Mayes and Chuck Muncie.

Over the Moon: Saints quarterback Drew Brees was more solid than spectacular, but he was certainly good enough to earn the win. He completed 23 of 33 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns. In the process, Brees passed Warren Moon for fifth place on the NFL's all-time passing yardage list. He now has 49,566 yards in his 13-year career.

Up next: The big one! The Saints will take their best shot at the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a Monday night showdown at the Seattle Seahawks (10-1). Seattle is always a tough place to play -- especially on a Monday night in early December when weather could be a factor. Not to mention, the physical Seahawks running game and monster defense. Should be a great clash of styles.

Rapid Reaction: Atlanta Falcons

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
11:33
PM ET

ATLANTA -- A few thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons' 17-13 loss to New Orleans Saints on Thursday night at the Georgia Dome:

Showing fight: Tight end Tony Gonzalez promised the Falcons would come out with some fight despite entering the game with a 2-8 record. He was right. The Falcons definitely put together a spirited effort against their NFC South rival. It showed from the start when the defense forced Drew Brees and the Saints into a three-and-out to begin the game, including two run-stuffing plays. And the offense played with just as much enthusiasm, as evident with Steven Jackson’s 1-yard touchdown flip -- his first rushing TD with the team. Despite some hiccups in defensive coverage and pass protection, the Falcons competed for almost the entire game, though the defense seemed to just wear down at the very end. It wasn’t truly over until Matt Bryant missed a 52-yard field-goal try in the final minutes. The Falcons needed to play with the same type of fire the previous four weeks. They’ve now lost five in a row.

Stock watch: Undrafted rookie receiver Darius Johnson’s stock skyrocketed and plummeted all in the same game. He played like a veteran in the first half, catching a team-high five passes for 65 yards. He almost had a touchdown, but a replay review showed he was down at the 1-yard line. As good as Johnson looked, though, he still made some rookie mistakes. He had a key drop across the middle while wide open on a third-and-2 play in the third quarter. Then in the fourth, Johnson fumbled the ball away after a catch, killing a Falcons drive into the red zone.

Third downer: When the Saints converted 5 of 5 third-down tries on their second drive of the game, you figured it would be a bad night for the Falcons' defense. It was. Atlanta gave up way too much room on third down, allowing the Saints to march at will. Third-down defense and surrendering explosive plays have been a problem for the Falcons all season. They also gave up a 44-yard touchdown from Brees to tight end Jimmy Graham.

Line change: Once again, the Falcons' offensive line experienced a change. Garrett Reynolds, who regained his starting spot at right guard after being benched last week, was benched again in favor of center/guard Peter Konz. There might be some more changes next time out after the Falcons allowed Matt Ryan to be sacked a season-high five times. Left tackle Lamar Holmes didn’t have a good day going up against right defensive end Cameron Jordan (2.5 sacks), and Saints left defensive end Akiem Hicks had a field day against the Falcons' linemen, too.

Bad call? Speaking of Hicks, he wrapped Ryan up high and twisted the quarterback to the ground in the second quarter on a play that appeared to be a roughing penalty. Falcons coach Mike Smith was livid that no call was made. And the sack essentially cost the Falcons a touchdown as they settled for Bryant’s 39-yard field goal. A touchdown there might have changed the complexion of the game. Smith and the Falcons are sure to reach out to the league about the officiating.

What's next: The Falcons have a few extra days to prepare for their trip to Toronto to face the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo beat the New York Jets 37-14 in Week 11 and has a bye this week. In other words, nothing gets any easier for the Falcons moving forward.

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