Falcons coach Dan Quinn sent out a plea last week, asking for “all hands on deck” for his 1-7 football team.
Against the Saints, that’s just what he got.
From reserve wide receivers Christian Blake and Olamide Zaccheaus to long snapper Josh Harris, every player seemingly made a contribution in the surprising 26-9 victory over the New Orleans Saints Sunday at the Superdome.
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“I think that can be uncommon to some teams in our league, where you just unconditionally support whatever role that you’ve got to go kick (behind) and earn it the very best way that you can,” Quinn said. “The guys who’s role may be smaller, they can still have an impact on the game. Sometimes you’re just that close to getting a bigger role and I think (running back) Brian (Hill) is a really good example of that.”
Blake, a former practice squad player, caught two passes for 15 yards.
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Zaccheaus, who made the team as an undrafted player, had a special teams tackle. Harris also made a special teams tackle as the Falcons received contributions from all sectors of the roster.
When Devonta Freeman went down with an ankle injury, Hill stepped up to run the ball with authority and scored on a 10-yard pass play in the fourth quarter.
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“This victory was produced by everybody,” Quinn said.
The Falcons improved to 2-7 and snapped their six-game losing streak, while the Saints dropped to 7-2 and had their six-game winning streak broken. The rematch is set for Thanksgiving night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
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Here are the five things we learned from the stunning victory:
1. Rushing attack: The Falcons came out determined the run the football by any means necessary.
Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter opened the game with a jet sweep to wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who picked up 19 yards. After a couple of runs by Freeman, third-string running back Kenjon Barner came in at quarterback and took a direct snap and ran for 12 yards.
The unscouted looks kept the Saints off balance and allowed for some running room the rest of the game.
The Falcons rushed for a season-high 143 yards on 34 carries.
Hill took over after Freeman left the game with an ankle injury. He finished with 61 yards rushing on 20 carries as the Falcons were able to keep four scoring drives of 10 plays or more alive.
Also, with the rushing attack, the Falcons won the time of possession battle, 33:46 to 26:14.
“I though our offensive line played extremely well,” quarterback Matt Ryan said.
Hill has been on an uphill climb since re-joining the team that drafted him last season.
“You never want to see somebody go down, and Devonta was out for the second half,” Ryan said. “But Brian Hill stepped up and ran the football effectively for us. He would turn some of those 2- or 3-yard runs into 5- or 6-yard runs with just his physical nature.”
Barner, normally just the punt and kickoff returner, had an expanded role with Ito Smith going on injured reserve on Saturday.
“I thought Kenjon did a good job coming in as well,” Ryan said.
Hill has worked hard on his pass catching.
“It was a really good catch for him on the touchdown,” Ryan said. “It was a good finish for him to come down with the touchdown in that situation.”
2. Communication was key on defense: Falcons defenders communicated well and that helped them contain the Saints’ passing attack.
“Let’s just do the fundamentals of the defense,” free safety Ricardo Allen said. “Let’s just play for each other. We were getting off the field. We were getting our offense in good position. It took all of it.”
The offense’s ability to score points helped the defense.
“Then special teams doing a great job knocking down the field goals and keeping us in good field position,” Allen said. “Keeping us up on the board the whole time, we were actually able to predict and see what they were doing against us.”
The Saints’ longest pass-play was 22 yards and there were no obviously blown coverages. This was the first week after assistant coach Raheem Morris moved over to work with the defensive backs.
Coach Dan Quinn passed off the play calling, mostly to linebacker’s coach Ulbrich, three games ago.
“It was really just the urgency in doing your job,” Allen said. “Every play, just critique yourself, was the hardest part.”
Making sure that everyone had the right defensive call was key.
“We just wanted to make sure that wasn’t the case,” Quinn said of messing up the coverages. “We went as hard as we could with our communication. We went as hard as we could to carry it out.”
3. Pass rush came alive: The Falcons finished with six sacks and had 11 quarterback hits on the normally elusive Drew Brees.
Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett led the charge with 2.5 sacks and Vic Beasley had 1.5 sacks. Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and defensive end Adrian Clayborn added sacks.
“It’s definitely something to build off of,” Jarrett said. “There are some things that we still have to go back and correct. There is a lot of football still left to play. We are still trying to put our best foot forward every week.”
The Falcons entered the game last in the league with just seven sacks on the season.
“That’s really when you see the complimentary football come to life when the rush and coverage can be in sync, to see that take place (against the Saints), give credit to the guys,” Quinn said. “They were really in tune, communicated and brought the game plan to life.
“Excellent job by the front and the secondary obviously to get some hits and the sacks. You have to have good coverage to go with it.”
4. Jones vs. Lattimore. The Saints played a lot of double coverage on wide receiver Julio Jones, who had three catches for 79 yards. He had a long-gainer of 54 yards.
Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (thigh) left the game early and did not return.
“For me and for this team, we have to continue to do what we’re doing and believe in one another,” Jones said. “We’ve got to keep building on that week-in-and-week-out. You cannot get complacent. “When everybody counts you out, we don’t do this for everybody. It’s about the men in this room. We come to work every day to get better. The only way we’re going to get better is if we believe that we can get better, and we have all the pieces to do so.”
5. New kicking game: Kicker Younghoe Koo made all four of his field goal attempts in his debut with the Falcons.
He made field goals of 37, 36, 48 and 30 yards.
New punter Ryan Allen had two punts for a net average of 29 yards. He placed one down inside the 20.
“I thought field position was going to be key in this game,” Quinn said. “We had changed both specialists on the kicking side and the punting side. That isn’t always easy to do in the middle of the year.”
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