For a game in which the Saints' quarterback position received much of the attention throughout the week, it was New Orleans' defense that proved the be the deciding factor.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan could never get into a rhythm while facing heavy pressure from the Saints in the 24-9 loss, which drops Atlanta to 3-7 on the season.
Ryan was sacked a total of eight times on Sunday afternoon, and the Falcons converted just 2 of their 14 third-down attempts. In the last game between these two teams - on Thanksgiving Day of 2019 - the Saints sacked Ryan nine times. Cameron Jordan led the Saints with three sacks on Sunday, while David Onyemata and Trey Hendrickson had two sacks each and Demario Davis had one.
"They did a really good job in coverage, I know the sack numbers will probably get out of whack because of how well they played in their coverage," interim head coach Raheem Morris said. "It was really not a lack of protection or a lack of discipline, busted assignments, it was really those guys doing a really good job of coverage, absolutely covering our wide outs and Matt (Ryan) having to hold onto the ball. A combination of all of those things played into that."
Star wide receiver Julio Jones left the game early due to a hamstring injury and missed much of the action. Without Jones on the field against a Saints secondary missing Marshon Lattimore, Ryan focused on Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage. Ridley led the Falcons with 90 yards on five catches while Gage chipped in with seven catches for 58 yards. Outside of those two, however, the Falcons didn't have much else working, offensively.
Atlanta finished the game with nine points and 248 total yards of offense, both of which mark season-lows for this offense. Ryan completed 19 of his 37 pass attempts for 232 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns. Todd Gurley led the Falcons on the ground with eight carries for 26 yards.
The Saints' offense took command at the start of the third quarter, covering 75 yards in 10 plays and scoring on a 2-yard touchdown run by Taysom Hill. Hill's touchdown gave the Saints a 17-9 lead against the Falcons with 9:11 remaining in the third quarter. New Orleans' first drive of the second half was highlighted by a 25-yard catch-and-run by Latavius Murray and three Michael Thomas catches for 29 yards.
New Orleans extended its lead early in the fourth quarter behind Hill's second rushing touchdown of the game. A 10-yard scramble down the left sideline put the Saints up 24-9, a margin the Falcons would not overcome.
In his first start as the Saints' primary quarterback, Hill played the entire game and fared well. He completed 18 of 23 passes for 233 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Hill added a game-high 51 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. His top target of the afternoon was Michael Thomas, who caught nine passes for 104 yards. Running backs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray combined for 94 rushing yards and a touchdown.
"We knew and felt really good about our plan for him," Morris said of Hill. "We have to make some of those plays with some of the balls he did make down the field. We were not able to do that today and we have to go back and look at the reasons why and correct those things quickly and efficiently and be able to move on because we are going to see these guys in a couple of weeks."
A late comeback attempt in the fourth quarter was ultimately put to an end when Janoris Jenkins picked off Ryan with 5:03 remaining in the action.
Neither the Falcons nor the Saints mustered a touchdown in the first half until Kamara broke through with a 3-yard score with 1:46 remaining in the second quarter. Prior to that point, it had been a field goal contest for both teams.
Keanu Neal had one of his best games of the season and led the Falcons with eight tackles. Deion Jones and Charles Harris each recorded a sack on Sunday, while Grady Jarrett and Allen Bailey had a half-sack, apiece. Rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell forced a fumble late in the game, and Foye Oluokun was credited with the recovery.
Younghoe Koo started things off for the Falcons, hitting from 28 yards out to give Atlanta a 3-0 lead after its first offensive possession. He later connected from 51 and 52 yards out in the second quarter to account for all nine of the Falcons' points in the first half.
Saints kicker Will Lutz converted one of his two field goal attempts in the first half, hitting from 22 yards out but missing a 53-yard try.
Atlanta tried to enter halftime with a Hail Mary touchdown on a fourth-and-long with just three seconds remaining, but Matt Ryan's pass was intercepted by Saints safety Marcus Williams. Ryan was consistently under pressure throughout the first half of the game and was sacked four times in the first two quarters. That pressure was part of the reason the Falcons converted just 1-of-7 third-down attempts in the first half.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints with top photos from Week 11