Last night, New Orleans hosted the long-standing holiday tradition of NFL Football on Thanksgiving for the first time ever. In a real treat for fans, Drew Brees threw four touchdown passes — each one to a different undrafted free-agent receiver — as the future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback and an opportunistic defense led the Saints to a 31-17 victory over their hated arch-rivals, the Atlanta Falcons.
The Saints’ current 10-game winning streak is now officially the second longest winning streak in team history. It remains only three games behind the franchise record 13-game winning streak to open the 2009 season; the year that the Saints eventually won their one and only Super Bowl title.
With the win, New Orleans improved their record to (10-1) overall and moved into the #1 Playoff seed within the NFC by virtue of their win two weeks ago over the (10-1) Los Angeles Rams; who are on their Bye Week this week. But the Saints have a much tougher remaining schedule than the Rams do, which could prove to be a difficult task to overcome.
Brees and his merry krewe of young, no-name contributors were the catalysts behind the team’s offensive output. The 39-year old and wily 18th-year NFL veteran gunslinger threw touchdown passes to wide receivers Tommylee Lewis, Austin Carr, Dan Arnold, and Keith Kirkwood.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) November 23, 2018
In a twist of irony, each of the four players who caught touchdown passes from Brees last night was undrafted at the beginning of their respective NFL careers.
Brees didn’t exactly have huge numbers statistically, yet still remained slightly ahead of everyone else in the League MVP race after he threw for 171 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception.
But without question, it was another stellar performance by the Saints’ defense that served as the true impetus for last night’s gratifying victory for Who Dat fans. After getting torched for a total of 26 receptions, 374 receiving yards, and five touchdown passes during their first meeting with Atlanta in Week #3, last night they redeemed themselves with a big-time performance.
The Black and Gold defensive unit rose to the occasion and sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan six times, intercepted him once, and forced two fumbles inside the red zone that ended potential Atlanta scoring drives; including a fumble by Falcons’ rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley near the Saints’ goal line in the 4th quarter that was recovered by cornerback Eli Apple.
The Saint's defense stands up again and forces ANOTHER turnover!
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) November 23, 2018
Ryan still managed to finish the contest with a 35-of-47 for 377 yards passing performance, along with two touchdowns. But he was constantly hit, harassed, hurried, and pressured into a handful of bad throws and poor decisions, rendering him completely ineffective (and visibly frustrated) at times.
The Saints’ defense limited the Falcons to 366 yards worth of offense, forced a total of four turnovers, and displayed an aggressiveness that has clearly been the driving force behind their very notable improvement of the past several games. As evidence of that fact: in their last three games in wins over the Bengals, Eagles, and Falcons, the Saints have only allowed an average of 12.7 points and 282.0 yards.
We're all talking about Drew Brees, but here's the @Saints points allowed since their bye week:
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) November 23, 2018
Those are the type of numbers that are generally associated with playing championship football — and perhaps no other team in the League right now is playing as well on both sides of the ball as New Orleans is.
But the Saints won’t get the chance to rest on their laurels for very long.
Next up for New Orleans is another Thursday night game, as the Black and Gold travels to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas to take on the red-hot (6-5) Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys defeated the Washington Redskins yesterday and have won three straight games of their own to take over the division lead in the NFC East. It will be the first of three consecutive games on the road for the Saints, who, after facing Dallas, travel to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (the Saints’ only loss this season) on December 9th before traveling to Charlotte, North Carolina to face the Carolina Panthers on Monday Night Football December 17th.
However, the Saints will at least get to finish off the year at home. They return to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to face the difficult challenge of taking on the always-tough and battle-hardened (7-2-1) Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, December 23rd. The Steelers have been on a roll of their own at the moment and have won 6 games in a row. After that, New Orleans closes out their 2018 Regular Season schedule with a rematch against the Panthers on December 30th; a contest that potentially has implications in determining which one of the two respective teams will win the NFC South Division title.
For now, however, the focus remains on winning them one game at a time — and with “Brees-y in the Big Easy” playing at an MVP level along with that constantly-improving defense — it likely won’t be much of a problem for these incredible New Orleans Saints.
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. You can view the rest of his Saints coverage and several feature articles here.