The Atlanta Falcons (4-8) entered Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints (10-2) eager to flip the script from their loss to their rival just two weeks prior, but they couldn't quite finish off their comeback attempt, losing 21-16.
Even with Julio Jones and Todd Gurley back in the lineup, Atlanta's offense had trouble getting anything going for much of the game against New Orleans' defense. The Falcons did a better job protecting Matt Ryan, giving up three sacks after allowing eight in the first meeting, but the receivers still had trouble consistently getting separation and the run game wasn't a major factor. The Falcons finished with 332 total yards of offense and struggled on third downs, converting just five of their 13 attempts.
Atlanta's best offensive drive of the game came in the fourth after Deion Jones recovered a Taysom Hill fumble at the Falcons' 15-yard line. The offense – helped by 25 yards of penalties from the Saints – marched 85 yards and cut New Orleans' lead to 21-16 with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Russell Gage. That score put the Falcons in position to win the game with another touchdown, but they couldn't manage to punch it in one more time.
It looked like the Falcons would pull off a stunner when they moved as close as the Saints' 13-yard line, but a pair of run plays that lost a total of 7 yards put them in a fourth down situation. On that fourth down, Ryan floated a pass to Jones in the end zone, but he was in tight double coverage and couldn't pull down an attempted one-handed catch.
The Falcons' defense turned in another solid performance against a Saints team without Drew Brees. Things began to look shaky when New Orleans scored touchdowns on its last drive of the first half and its first drive of the second half, taking a 21-9 lead, but the Falcons settled down and played much better on third downs to get off the field. Led by a good performance from Hill, the Saints gained 424 yards and were 3-of-5 in the red zone, whereas the Falcons were 1-of-4 in the red zone.
Hill finished the game completing 27 of his 37 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns - the first two touchdown passes of his career - and he also gained 83 rushing yards on 14 carries, over half of which came on an early 43-yard scramble. Ryan was 19-of-39 on Sunday, throwing for 273 yards and a touchdown. Both Hill and Ryan had a fumble in the game.
Calvin Ridley was Atlanta's leading receiver on Sunday, catching five passes for 108 yards, and Jones finished his afternoon with six catches for 94 yards. Ito Smith led the Falcons on the ground, gaining 36 yards on eight carries. Gurley chipped in with eight carries for 16 yards and Brian Hill picked up 18 yards on five attempts.
For New Orleans, Michael Thomas was the top receiving target in the game. He caught nine passes for 105 yards, but it was Tre'Quan Smith and tight end Jared Cook who caught Hill's two touchdown passes. Alvin Kamara led the Saints in rushing, picking up 88 yards and scoring a touchdown on 15 carries.
Foye Oluokun and Deion Jones were the Falcons' leading tacklers, racking up 13 and 10 tackles, respectively. Jones came up with the Hill fumble, which was forced by rookie corner A.J. Terrell, who also had a pass breakup in the game and finished with nine tackles.
With the loss, the Falcons fall further down the NFC standings and have now been swept by their biggest division rival. They will attempt to get things turned around next week with a cross-conference matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers.