Saints beat Falcons, but fall short of a playoff berth

Published 8:25 pm Sunday, January 9, 2022

ATLANTA (AP) — Trevor Siemian and his New Orleans teammates saw their playoff hopes end not on the field, but in their locker room.

For that cold reality to hit the team only minutes after their 30-20 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, it left the Saints with what Siemian described as “a hollow feeling.”

The Saints (9-8) rushed off the field following their win to watch the final minutes of the San Francisco 49ers’ 27-24 overtime win over the Los Angeles Rams. The Saints needed the Rams to win in order to make the playoffs, but the Rams blew a 17-0 lead and then gave up a game-tying touchdown in the final minute of regulation. The 49ers kicked a field goal and got a defensive stop in overtime to win.

The Saints kept up with the Rams-49ers game on the sideline and so there was a rush to watch the ending on TV.

“It’s hard when your future, your fate, is in somebody else’s hands,” said Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, who had a forced fumble.

The Saints finished short of a wild-card spot and a fifth consecutive playoff berth. San Francisco took the spot instead, and will play the Dallas Cowboys on wild card weekend .In the other NFC wild-card games, Philadelphia will play at Tampa Bay and the Arizona Cardinals will play at the Rams. Dates and times were to be announced late Sunday night.

“You want to cherish it when you win … but when you watch another team lose … it’s a hollow feeling,” Siemian said.

Cornerback Paulson Adebo, who had an interception, said: “Ideally you play to where you control your own destiny. In this situation, we had to rely on other teams and that’s not what you want to do.”

Asked about the emotions of his players in the locker room, coach Sean Payton said “Probably any and all Saints fans watching it, it would have felt the same way in our locker room. No different than a fan would be.”

Siemian led back-to-back scoring drives following two Atlanta turnovers late in the first half as the Saints overcame the loss of quarterback Taysom Hill to a Lisfranc injury to his left foot.

Alvin Kamara ran for 146 yards on a career-high 30 carries for the Saints, topping his combined 102 yards in his last three games with his first 100-yard game since Dec. 12, when he had 120 yards against the New York Jets.

The Falcons (7-10) were hurt by three turnovers, including two fumbles by running back Mike Davis. The Saints also had three sacks, including one by Cameron Jordan. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan completed 20 of 33 passes for 216 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.

With about six minutes left in the first half, the Saints were up 7-6 when Hill was injured on a 1-yard run. Hill went into the Saints medical tent on the sideline before being escorted to the locker room.

Siemian took over and threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Tre’Quan Smith.

A pair of Atlanta turnovers helped the Saints extend the 14-6 lead. Paulson Adebo intercepted Ryan’s pass for Russell Gage, setting up Brett Maher’s 37-yard field goal.

On the Falcons’ next play, Davis fumbled when he was hit by Jenkins, and Saints linebacker Kwon Alexander made the recovery. Siemian’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Juwan Johnson with only 2 seconds remaining gave the Saints a 24-6 halftime lead.

Ryan said the two turnovers “really hurt. Breathed some life into them and gave them an opportunity to score some points before the half, which is always tough to overcome.”

Siemian, who started in the Saints’ 27-25 home loss to the Falcons on Nov. 8, completed 9 of 15 passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns.

The Falcons had no answer in their running game. Davis led Atlanta with only 30 yards rushing on six carries.

Davis’ second lost fumble, forced by Alexander and recovered by Shy Tuttle,came in the fourth quarter and set up Maher’s third field goal in four tries.

A rare highlight for Atlanta came on Qadree Ollison’s 19-yard scoring run in the third quarter.

Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts returned from a hamstring injury and fell short in his bid to pass Mike Ditka’s record for most yards receiving by a rookie tight end. Ditka had 1,076 yards in 14 games for Chicago in 1961 and Pitts, who had only two catches for eight yards on Sunday, finished with 1,026 yards.