Deion Jones’ INT keeps Falcons in playoff pursuit


Deion Jones intercepted Drew Brees in the end zone, thwarting a potential Saints game-winning drive and preserving a 20-17 victory for the (8-5) Atlanta Falcons over (9-4) New Orleans. Here’s what we learned in the exciting kickoff to Week 14’s action:

1. Atlanta’s playoff hopes fluctuated with every Matt Ryan interception counterbalanced by a plague of penalties and injuries incurred by New Orleans in a game of sweeping momentum swings. With the season on the brink, Dan Quinn seemed doomed to days of second-guessing after declining a holding penalty that would have placed the Saints in a third-and-11 pickle on the cusp of field-goal range. Faced instead with a 4th-and-1 at the 24-yard line, Sean Payton put the game in his quarterback’s hands, dialing up a successful Drew Brees sneak. Jones went on to save his head coach — and his team’s season — in the red zone, flashing dynamic athleticism over a two-play sequence that will send the Falcons flying into next week’s battle with the Buccaneers. After snuffing out a Willie Snead catch-and-run with extraordinary closing speed, Jones leaped high in the air to snare a Brees pass intended for tight end Josh Hill.

2. The Saints could have used a waiting room for their sideline injury tent. Literally lining up to get examined by medical personnel, they are going to need the extra few days of rest in advance of next week’s home bout with the Jets. Alvin Kamara went down with a concussion at the tail end of an opening drive dominated by the sensational rookie’s four touches. His absence severely handcuffed a New Orleans offense that discovered screen passes to tight ends and quick-hitters to third and fourth receivers don’t have quite the same punch. The problems weren’t limited to that side of the ball. The defense saw defensive ends Trey Hendrickson and David Onyemata, linebacker A.J. Klein and safety Kenny Vaccaro go down with injuries of their own. With a handful of key defenders out and rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore sucking oxygen on the sideline, Matt Ryan took full advantage with the game on the line, leading an eight-play field-goal drive that stood as the game-winner.

3. Since Payton and Brees landed in New Orleans just over a decade ago, this underrated rivalry has been defined by high-octane offenses in memorable clashes that tend to come down to the last possession. With two matchups in a three-week span this month, the talented young defenses are taking center stage. Buoyed by Lattimore’s physical approach to covering Julio Jones, the Saints‘ aggressive secondary picked Ryan three times to close out the first half and open the second. Minus Kamara’s playmaking ability, on the other hand, the offense managed season lows in points (17), total yards (306) and rushing yards (50) against a stingy Falcons defense that afforded Ryan every opportunity to salvage that three-interception performance with a clutch fourth quarter.

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