5 things learned from Falcons’ win over Saints

Atlanta Falcons running back Bijan Robinson (7) and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge (12) celebrate a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Atlanta. The Atlanta Falcons won 24-15. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)
Atlanta Falcons running back Bijan Robinson (7) and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge (12) celebrate a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Atlanta. The Atlanta Falcons won 24-15. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

The Falcons weren't trying to rack up style points, they just needed a win in whatever form or fashion it came to stop their three-game losing streak.

That was the mindset and there were no apologies after the gritty — and at times barely watchable — 24-15 victory over the Saints on Sunday at Mercedes Benz Stadium.

"Glad to get the win," Falcons coach Arthur Smith said on Monday. "It was a physical game. I thought both our (offensive) line and (defensive) line played really physical....We needed that win."

While low on style points, the Falcons earned some street cred on Hip Hop day in Atlanta — and the environment at the Benz was electric and energetic

"The atmosphere was unbelievable," Smith said. "The closet thing to a playoff intensity that I've been around since I've been here.

Here are the five things we learned from the victory:

1. Ridder shook off the picks: Quarterback Desmond Ridder shook off two interceptions early in the game, stood in the pocket and delivered a picture-perfect pass to a streaking Bijan Robinson to help secure the victory.

"I mean, it's always the next-play mentality," Ridder said. "No matter what happens, good, bad, ugly, just move on to the next play."

Robinson verses Saints linebacker Demario Davis, who defended on the play, was one of the key matchups of the game.

"We got the matchup we wanted, Bijan on the backer," Ridder said. "(I) was able to give him a ball. The (offensive) line did a heck of a job all day of giving me enough time to stand in the pocket."

Ridder was under pressure on the throw.

"It was the same play we ran earlier that I kind of scrambled on down there in the red zone and like almost ran into (tight end) Kyle (Pitts)," Ridder said. "It was the same exact play. That one was zone coverage. This one we got matched up in man. Felt pressure, took my drop, saw the matchup with him and Demario and just put up a ball for him to go get."

Robinson's 26-yard touchdown catch gave the Falcons a 21-12 lead with 9:57 left in the fourth quarter.

2. Offensive line challenged: Rookie left guard Matthew Bergeron had one of the key blocks on Robinson's 10-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

The offensive line was challenged to help create more space for the rushing attack.

"I feel like this week we put an emphasis on doing more," Bergeron told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I feel like, in the past few weeks, we fell short. This week we really put our heads down and worked. I feel like we were communicating well. Everybody was being physical. It just felt like good to be out there with those four guys and go at all (game long)."

The Falcons flexed their upfront muscle in the bone-rattling fourth quarter drive when Smith called nine straight running plays. The Falcons moved 54 yards and took 4:37 off the clock. Younghoe Koo made a 39-yard field goal to make it a two-score game.

"It feels good, knowing that you have the trust of the team and coach on offense," Bergeron said. "So, it just shows how much confidence they have in us and how hard we worked to earn that trust. We are going to keep working. There's obviously some stuff we've got to correct and we'll get better for next week."

3. Defensive line stood up too: Defensive tackle David Onyemata, who played seven seasons with the Saints, was elated after the victory. He missed the last game against the Cardinals with an ankle injury.

"It definitely was a huge win, knowing the circumstances that we were in," Onyemata told the AJC. "The win is going to give us the lead in the division. I don't think there's anything better than that. But the main thing is thing is we have to keep going. We have to sustain that throughout the regular season, get into the playoffs and keep doing the same thing."

The Falcons held the Saints without a touchdown.

"That's football," Onyemata said. "You keep them out of the end zone, they can't beat you. We'd rather they take three points over seven. I don't think there is anything wrong with that. Based on what we've done over the season, we've been stout in the red zone. Going out there and executing is kind of what we do."

Outside linebacker Arnold Ebiketie came up with a big third-down sack.

"Every time you go out there and get a sack, it feels good," Ebiketie told the AJC. "Just being able to step up and being there for your teammates."

4. Grant's playing time cut: The Falcons showed off a new safety rotation against the Saints, reducing the playing time of starter Richie Grant.

Grant, who played all defensive snaps in three of the previous four games, played 54 of 72 defensive snaps (75 percent) Sunday. Rookie DeMarcco Hellams played 38 defensive snaps and cornerback Tre Flowers played eight snaps at safety.

Smith acknowledged the rotation after the game.

"I think people want to get you in so much (nickel) defense," Smith said. "They weren't playing a lot of heavy personnel on some of their tight end package. It felt little. That's a lot of the NFL right now.

"So, people do that, then they try to get the smaller guys into the run fits. You're just trying to change it up, putting guys in spots where you think you can maximize them. And that's a credit to DeMarcco as well. Even you saw Tre (Flowers) go out there a little bit too."

Hellams finished with seven tackles. Grant finished with four tackles and a pass breakup. Flowers had two tackles and a tackle for a loss.

5. Injury report: Defensive end Calais Campbell went down with a left ankle injury early in the game, cornerback Mike Hughes had a hand injury and safety Micah Abernathy was checked for a concussion.

Campbell returned and ended up playing 46 defensive snaps (64%).

"Yeah, it did not feel good," Campbell said. "I had to go down for a second, but I was able to go back in and keep playing, so I'll be fine."

Hughes played 18 defensive snaps and one on special teams and Abernathy played 20 special teams' snaps.

Wide receiver Mack Hollins (ankle) missed the game because of injury.

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