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'No. 3 is special. Let's start off there': Jessie Bates III, Falcons defense shows strength in win vs. Saints

With another multi-turnover day for Jessie Bates III and a clean red zone for the defensive unit overall, the Falcons took control of New Orleans in win. 

ATLANTA -- First things first, Kaden Elliss said in the aftermath of the Falcons' 24-15 win over the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, give credit where credit is due.

"Well, No. 3 is special," Elliss said of Jessie Bates III. "Let's start off there."

For the second time this season, the Falcons veteran safety notched a multi-turnover day. Bates accumulated three turnovers against Carolina in Week 1. Elliss said Sunday's Week 12 game made him feel that Carolina game "all over again," as Bates returned an interception 92 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and forced a fumble at the very end of the third quarter that the Falcons recovered. Elliss called Bates' turnovers "the biggest sigh of relief" in the moment.

Three days after Thanksgiving, echoes of gratefulness ricocheted around the Falcons post-game locker room. The Falcons were thankful for Bates.

"This guy just keeps making plays," Calais Campbell said.

Said A.J. Terrell a few lockers over: "That's what we brought him here for, to be a difference maker. He's living up to that day-in and day-out."

Said Elliss across the room on a follow-up: "It was kind of like, 'Dang, c'mon, we gotta make a play.' ... We say that, but (Bates is) the guy who actually goes out there and does it."

Bates sat amongst it all. Soaking it in. When it was his turn to speak, he was -- of course -- asked about his two turnovers. The more poignant part of his post-win availability was, however, what he said about the defense as a whole.

Yes, the Falcons scored 14 points off those two turnovers (big in a game the Falcons won by nine points). For Bates, though, it meant just as much that the defense was as secure as it has ever been in the red zone.

New Orleans never made it across the goal line Sunday even though they found themselves in the red zone five times. Despite the Saints accumulating 444 yards of total offense, that stat meant little compared to the fact New Orleans kicked six field goal in the game. They made five of the six. Two of their red-zone appearances ended in the Bates turnovers. The Saints may have had nine plays of more than 15 yards a pop, but they never put up more than three points a pop, either.

That's why Sunday was a true bend-but-don't-break day for this defensive unit.

Atlanta Falcons safety Jessie Bates III #3 scores a touchdown after an interception during the Week 12 Game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday, November 26, 2023. (Photo by Jay Bendlin/Atlanta Falcons)

Bates said this performance was an example of where the Falcons defense wants to be. He added it meant a lot to see the offense put together one of its best drives of the day after his forced fumble to start the fourth quarter.

Starting on Atlanta's own 5-yard line, the offense drove all the way down to the New Orleans 26-yard line. After a timeout, Desmond Ridder connected on a dime to Bijan Robinson for a 26-yard touchdown reception. It was a series of events the Falcons have been missing. So, it wasn't a moment lost on Bates.

"It's something we've struggled to do, piecing drives and piecing momentum together as a team," he said. "For us to do that, get a turnover and then go down and score and make it a two possession game, that's what we've been talking about that we gotta do, separate from people when we get the opportunity and we did that today."

The Week 12 win couldn't have come at a better time, Bates continued. The Falcons lost their last three games prior to their Week 11 bye. They were 4-6 heading into Week 12 but still fighting for a spot atop the NFC South. The Saints -- and outside noise -- was standing in their way.

For Bates, he heard the noise. He saw the task at hand. He welcomed it, in fact. And after a divisional win against a bitter rival, he thought the Falcons did what was necessary to get back on track.

That's the hope at least as the Falcons sit at 5-6, tied for a first-place spot in the division.

"You come off of three or four losses and everybody's asking questions: 'Is (Arthur Smith) going to be here? Are they making the right decisions with the quarterback?'" Bates said. "But one thing I love about this team is its mindset and just being able to block out all the noise and just get back to work.

"The job's not finished."

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints during Week 12.

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