December 7, 2008

Saints Best Falcons in Divisional Slugfest, 29-25

Running game of Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush carries Saints over fantastic rookie Matt Ryan
courtesy neworleanssaints.com

RB Pierre Thomas scored on a five yard TD run five plays after be raced 88 yards on a kickoff return to give the Saints a 29-25 lead and then he ran the clock out in the waning minutes to give the Saints their seventh victory of the season.

Thomas, who had 102 yards on the night on just 16 carries, also added one reception for seven yards and a touchdown and a kickoff return for 88 yards. All told, Thomas had 195 total yards of offense and two scores as the Saints kept their playoffs hopes alive.

QB Drew Brees completed 18-of-32 passes for 230 yards and two scores and didn’t turn the ball over, while his counterpart, Matt Ryan threw for 315 yards on 24-of-33 passing with one touchdown and one interception.

Reggie Bush added 80 yards on 10 carries with a career-long 43 yard run and added three receptions for 26 yards for another 100-yard game of the season and TE Jeremy Shockey made several huge receptions and ended up with 64 yards on five receptions. WR Devery Henderson made his three receptions count and racked up 72 yards, including a huge 36-yarder on third down in the fourth quarter.

The Saints’ opening drive began at their own 27 and ended after three consecutive running plays that netted eight yards.

Atlanta started their first possession at their 22-yard line and promptly saw RB Michael Turner drop a dump off pass in the slat. Turner came right back and picked up 26 yards on a hard-hitting run off the left side of the offensive line before being tackled from behind by OLB Scott Shanle at the Falcons’ 48.QB Matt Ryan then completed a 14-yard pass to WR Michael Jenkins before Turner rumbled for nine yards to the Saints’ 29.

FB Ovie Mughelli rumbled for a yard and the first down. CB Usama Young dropped Turner at the line of scrimmage and on second down CB Jason David jumped a pass intended for WR Roddy White and took the pass back 23 yards to the Saints’ 48 before being tracked down by White. The interception was David’s team-high fourth of the season and tied his career-high (2004 with Indy).

Reggie Bush then found a hole and ripped off a 43-yard run, the longest rush of his career to the Atlanta 9. Thomas then picked up four yards and QB Drew Brees’s first pass of the day was a touchdown strike across the middle to Bush for five yards. The touchdown was Bush’s ninth of the season.

Atlanta started their second possession at their own 22 and began with two short runs by Turner. CB Usama Young broke up a pass intended for White on third down and the Falcons were forced to punt. The Saints were flagged for a holding call in the change of possession and the Saints started their second drive at their own 23 with 6:52 left in the first quarter.

The Saints’ third drive, which began with a 14-yard hook-up between Brees and Jeremy Shockey, stalled near midfield and the Saints were forced to punt. Glenn Pakulak hit a 52-yard punt that was knocked out of bounds by CB Leigh Torrence at the Falcons’ 2 yard-line.

Atlanta tried to surprise Saints and tried a bomb down the sideline to White, but White shoved Young, which drew a penalty. The Saints declined the offensive pass interference and on second down stopped Turner for a one-yard loss. Third down, however, witnessed a 15-yard quick slant to White for the first down at the Atlanta 16. The Saints’ Roman Harper and DE Jeff Charleston both stopped Atlanta ball-carriers for no gain on first and second downs and Atlanta was guilty of a false start on third-and-11, which made it third and 16 at the 10. The Saints’ allowed a short completion before closing in on White and forcing another punt.

P Matt Koenen hit a high hanging 51-yard punt that Bush caught along the sideline at the Saints’ 29. Bush then picked up five yards on a delayed handoff before Brees connected with Shockey for a nine-yard gain and the first down at the New Orleans 43. Marques Colston then reeled in a quick hitch for an 11-yard gain on the final play of the first quarter to the Atlanta 46.

The first play of the second quarter witnessed Pierre Thomas reel off an 18-yard run. A first down pass from Brees to Colston went off of Colston’s hands and a diving Chevis Jackson scooped it up and returned it 12 yards to the Atlanta 35 before being tackled by Jahri Evans. A replay was shown and upon closer examination the ball appeared to bounce off the field turf surface and Head Coach Sean Payton emphatically threw his red challenge flag to have the play reviewed by Referee Bill Leavy.

Following the officials ruling the football was returned to the Saints’ 28 and the Saints faced a second-and-ten. Brees then found leader receiving Lance Moore along the sideline on a comeback route for a gain of 11 yards and a first down at the 17. Bush then scampered off the left side of the line for a gain of four yards to the 13. Thomas then slugged it out with a hard run off the left side for a gain of five yards to the eight. Deuce McAllister then tried the right side of the line but was stopped shy of the first down sticks by MLB Curtis Lofton. K Garrett Hartley trotted out to attempt a 26-yard field goal attempt and banged his ninth straight field goals through the uprights to give the Saints a 10-0 lead.

Atlanta struck back quickly, though, capitalizing on a 59-yard completion from Ryan to White on their first play from scrimmage that took the ball from the Falcons’ 26 to the Saints’ 15 in one play. Three plays later Turner went into the end zone behind a hole created by left guard Justin Blalock to closed the score to 10-7 in the Saints’ favor.

New Orleans ten started at their own 23 and Brees connected with Shockey for a gain of 21 yards, then found Colston for nine yards and Thomas scampered two yards for the first down. Brees tried to find Bush down the middle of the field but LM Keith Brooking has him blanketed. Thomas then ripped off an 18-yard run to the Atlanta 27. Brees and Shockey very nearly hooked up what would have been a touchdown, but the pass sailed just above the reach of the tight end. A stunting John Abraham ruined a second down pass play that Brees threw away and the Saints’ third down completion of 20 yards to Colston was negated by a holding call on Jammal Brown. Brees and Moore picked up nine yards of the ensuing third down and Hartley then was called upon and made his second field goal, a 46-yarder with 6:10 left that gave the Saints a 13-7 lead.

Atlanta, beginning at their own 24, picked up 14 yards on a completion to White on first down along the sideline. Turner then picked up two yards before being dropped by MLB Jonathan Vilma. RB Jerious Norwood then picked up 11 yards and Ryan found rookie WR Harry Douglas open for a gain of 28 yards to the Saints’ 22. Scott Shanle and DT Antwan Lake then halted Norwood for no gain. Ryan and White picked up seven yards on a completion and Ryan then found WR Michael Jenkins for a gain of 12 yards on third down on a finger tip reception over the middle of the field. New Orleans used their first time out with 2:28 remaining in the half. Turner then crashed over the right side of the line for a gain of a yard to the two-yard line. Ryan then rolled to his right but threw the ball away on second down but came back and connected on a TD pass to WR Brian Finneran. Payton challenged whether Finneran got both feet down in bounds. The ruling on the filed stood and the Falcons lead 14-13 following the extra point. The Saints were charged with their final timeout and also lost the ability to challenge any further calls the remainder of the game because they lost their second challenge of the game.

Following a touchback New Orleans started at their own 20 an picked up eight yards from Bush, a six-yard completion to Shockey, six more from Colston via a completion, an 18-yard completion to WR Devery Henderson and a slick underneath route to Moore for 15 yards to the Atlanta 27 with :43 left. Brees and Moore very narrowly missed on a deep sideline pass across the field on the subsequent first down. Bush took a delayed handoff but was tripped up after a short gain. Brees then found Henderson over the middle for a gain of 18 and spiked the ball with :03 left from the 7 and Harley concluded the two minute drive with a 25-yard field goal that gave the Saints a 16-14 lead. The Saints; two minute drive covered 73 yards in 11 plays in 2:13 without the benefit of any timeouts.

The second half began with the Saints stopping the Falcons on a three-and-out and forcing a punt, with the Saints taking over at their own 14. Colston made a leaping reception that the officials ruled was caught out of bounds on first down and then Brees was flushed out of the pocket on second down but hit Bush for a six yard gain. The Falcons broke up a third down pass for Moore with a perfectly timed hit and the Saints were forced to punt, with Pakulak hammering a 55-yard punt. Gunner Leigh Torrence split a double team block and decked return man Harry Douglas as soon as he caught the ball at the Falcons’ 26.

Atlanta was guilty of a second down holding call on a run by Turner that pushed them back six yards and came right back with another holding infraction on the next play when Will Smith was impeded. A third-and-21 from the Atlanta 15 witnessed the Saints surrender a 23-yard completion to White for the first down. Atlanta was then flagged for a false start penalty. Vilma came back and laid out Norwood after a two-yard completion over the middle. Ryan was nearly blind-sided by Smith on a second down pass but the quarterback dumped the pass off for a six-yard gain. Atlanta converted another first down with a six-yard pass to Finneran to the New Orleans 48.

The Saints dialed up blitz but watched as Ryan lofted a pass to Jenkins for 21 yards to the Saints’ 27. Turner then pounded out four yards through the middle but was stopped at the line of scrimmage on second down by Roman Harper and Bobby McCray. Ryan fired a third down pass over the middle for a gain of 14 yards to White for the Falcons third third-down conversion of the drive to the Saints’ 9. Turner picked up a yard on first down and three yards on second down, which brought up a third-and-goal from the 5. Ryan’s pass, intended for Douglas, was incomplete as tight coverage by Randall Gay halted the 69-yard drive after 15 plays. K Jason Elam banged home a chip shot 23-yard field goal that put the Falcons ahead, 17-16.

Trailing for the second time in the game, the Saints were forced to start at their own 14. The Saints converted their first third down of the second half with a 15-yard completion from Brees to Bush and then watched as Thomas rumbled for 14 yards to midfield.

An incompletion on first down preceded a Brees one-yard scramble on second down as he was brought down by DE Chauncey Davis on the last play of the third quarter. On a third-and-nine Brees hooked up with Henderson for a 36 yard catch-and-run. Two plays later Brees snuck a screen pass to Thomas, who rumbled the final seven yards for the go-ahead touchdown, 22-17. The Saints went for the two-point conversion but failed to convert.

The Falcons responded with an 11-play, 73-yard drive that was capped with a 12-yard touchdown run by Matt Ryan. The Falcons upped the lead to 25-22 with a two-point conversion pass to WR Michael Jenkins.

The ensuing kickoff return was returned 88 yards to the Atlanta 16 by Thomas. It was the longest kickoff return of Thomas’ career. Bush took a and handoff for no gain and then Bush dashed and darted his way through the middle for a hard earned nine yards to the 7. A third down pass was incomplete as Michael Boley had tight coverage on Bush out of the backfield. FB Mike Karney smashed his way forward on fourth-down for a gain of two yards to the five.

On the next play Pierre Thomas somehow found a running lane and got into the end zone for five-yard touchdown run. Hartley’s extra point gave the Saints a 29-25 lead.

The Saints’ defense then stopped the Falcons on their own side of the field and forced the Falcons to punt to the Saints with just over three minutes remaining in the game. Brees hit Shockey for 10 yards and a first down and then two Thomas runs picked up first down and the Saints worked through the two-minute warning and forced the Falcons to burn all of their timeouts as the clock ticked down to 1:07. The Saints bled the clock down to and called their second timeout facing a third-and-three from their own 42. The carry, fittingly enough, gave Thomas his first 100-yard rushing game of the season and the second of his career.

Thomas took a pitch and bolted outside and picked up the first down, thus insuring the Saints could take a knee and run the clock out.

Notes: The Saints won the coin toss and elected to receive … CB Jason David’s interception in the first quarter was his fourth of the season, which ties his career-high (also had four in 2004 as a member of the Indianapolis Colts) ... RB Reggie Bush’s 43-yard run in the first quarter was a career-long for the third-year running back. His previous high was a 29-yarder at Carolina on October 19, 2008 … newly signed CB Leigh Torrence downed a Glenn Pakulak 52-yard punt at the Atlanta 2 yard-line in the first quarter … Hartley’s three field goals in the first half have made him a perfect 11-of-11 thus far this season.

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