Deion Jones intercepted Drew Brees in the end zone, thwarting a possible Saints winning play and retaining a 20-17 victory for the Atlanta Falcons (8-5) over (9-4) New Orleans. This is what we learned in the exciting start of the Week 14 action:
1. The hopes of the Atlanta playoffs fluctuated with every interception by Matt Ryan counteracted by a plague of penalties and injuries incurred by New Orleans in a game of big momentum swings. With season on the edge of the abyss, Dan Quinn seemed doomed to days of doubt after rejecting a possession penalty that would have placed the Saints in a third and 11 pickles on the cusp of the field goal field. Instead, with a 4-and-1 at the 24-yard line, Sean Payton put the game in the hands of his quarterback, marking a successful furtive from Drew Brees. Jones went on to save his head coach – and his team's season – in the red zone, showing dynamic athleticism over a two-game sequence that will send the Falcons into next week's battle with the Buccaneers. After snuffing out a Willie Snead who catches and runs with an extraordinary closing speed, Jones jumped in the air to catch a Brees pass intended for tight end Josh Hill.
2. The Saints could have used a waiting room for their side injury store. In literal line to be examined by the medical staff, they will need the extra days of rest before the home fight next week with the Jets. Alvin Kamara fell with a concussion in the tail of an opening drive dominated by the sensational touches of four rookies. His absence severely handcuffed a New Orleans offense that discovered screen passes to tight ends and quick hits for third and fourth receivers that do not have the same hit. The problems were not 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 suffer injuries of their own. With a handful of key defenders out and rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore breathing oxygen into the sideline, Matt Ryan made the most of the game on the line, leading a series of eight field goal plays as the winner of the game.
3. Since Payton and Brees landed in New Orleans more than a decade ago, this underestimated rivalry has been defined by high-octane offenses in memorable clashes that tend to be reduced to the last possession. With two clashes over a three-week span this month, talented young defenders are taking center stage. Driven by Lattimore's physical focus to cover Julio Jones, the Saints' aggressive secondary chose Ryan three times to close the first half and open the second half. Minus Kamara's ability to play, on the other hand, the offense handled season-lows in points (17), total yards (306) and rushing yards (50) against a stinging Falcons defense that gave Ryan every opportunity to save that performance from three interceptions with a fourth quarter clutch.