Falcons had few answers for Saints backup QB Taysom Hill

Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) enters the end zone for a touchdown just out of the reach of Falcons linebacker Deion Jones (45) in the second half Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in New Orleans. (Butch Dill/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) enters the end zone for a touchdown just out of the reach of Falcons linebacker Deion Jones (45) in the second half Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in New Orleans. (Butch Dill/AP)

As it turned out, it didn’t matter that Drew Brees was forced to sit.

With Brees unavailable due to fractured ribs and a collapsed lung suffered a week ago, the New Orleans Saints turned to backup Taysom Hill in what was a somewhat surprising move due to his lack of experience as an NFL starting quarterback.

After a slow start during the Saints’ 24-9 win over the Falcons, Hill made the plays that had Saints coach Sean Payton believing long before anyone else had a chance to see him in an extended role. Hill was accurate with the football against the Falcons, completing 18 of 23 passes for 233 yards.

But it was his athleticism as a runner that made the Falcons pay in crucial situations.

“He made more plays and he’s a good football player,” Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said. “Hats off to him.”

In the first half, the Saints were held to only one touchdown, an Alvin Kamara run that occurred late in the second quarter. It was in the second half that the game opened up for Hill.

On their opening drive of the third quarter, the Saints faced a fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line and came out in a formation that showed an obvious quarterback power play. The formation giveaway didn’t matter as Hill took the snap and ran cleanly off right tackle for his first rushing touchdown of the game.

Two drives later from the Falcons’ 10-yard line, and up 17-9 in the fourth quarter, Hill rolled to his left and couldn’t find anyone open. He subsequently took off and outran the Falcons defenders nearest him, which included linebacker Deion Jones. Hill crossed the left corner of the end zone and put the Saints ahead 24-9.

Hill actually had another chance to put the Saints in scoring position with a long run, although Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell caught him from behind to force a fumble after a pickup of 20 yards. As a runner, Hill finished with 10 carries for 51 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) fumbles as he is tripped up by Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell in the second half Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in New Orleans. (Butch Dill/AP)

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Credit: AP

“He’s a good athlete,” linebacker Foye Oluokun said. “A lot of times it was extended plays, really. Sometimes when we do know it’s a quarterback run, there’s an extra blocker for him since the running back can be an extra blocker. We have to get off those blocks and get to the ball faster.”

Throughout the week of practice, the Falcons prepared for both Hill and Jameis Winston at quarterback. Winston was the logical choice due to his five years of starting experience as a former No. 1 overall pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hill, however, was listed as the Saints’ No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart and has been lauded by Payton for a long while.

But considering Hill had only attempted 18 passes in the NFL before Sunday, there were some questions as to whether he would be able to do as good of a job as he did. At least against the Falcons, Hill made Payton look smart by turning to him to relieve Brees. If this season is the last for Brees, who turns 42 years old in January, then there’s a chance that Hill, who signed a two-year contract worth $21 million this offseason, is auditioning for the Saints’ starting job.

If so, Sunday’s win over the Falcons was a solid first step.

As a passer, Hill delivered some deep balls down the field. His best throw, which would have gone for a 57-yard touchdown to receiver Emmanuel Sanders, was called back due to offensive holding. Hill finished the game with seven throws of 15 yards or more.

“He’s an NFL quarterback. It’s not like he’s an offensive tackle,” cornerback Darqueze Dennard said. “He’s been in the league for a while, he’s in the league for a reason. He had a good game.”

The Falcons won’t face Brees this season as the two teams are set to square off for a rematch at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in two weeks. With Brees on injured reserve, Hill is expected to start that game as well. After his performance Sunday, the Falcons, and the entire NFL, learned a little more about Hill.

He might not be the gadget player many observers previously pegged him as.

“We felt really good about our plan for him,” Morris said. “We have to make some of the plays on the balls he made down the field. We were not able to do that (Sunday). We have to go back and look at those reasons and the reasons why. We have to correct those things quickly and efficiently and be able to move on because we will see these guys in a couple of weeks.”