When the Falcons went up 26-10 early in the fourth quarter while quarterback Jameis Winston was in the sideline medical tent, it looked like Week One was going to end in unhappy fashion for the Saints.
The next 12 minutes turned any frowns upside down, however. Winston hit Michael Thomas for a pair of touchdowns and the Saints defense came up with a pair of stops that set up Wil Lutz for a 51-yard field goal attempt with 19 seconds left to play. Lutz hit the kick and the Falcons rallied for a 63-yard try to swing things back their way, but Younghoe Koo‘s try was blocked and the Saints got a 27-26 win.
Winston’s late heroics came after a pretty brutal three quarters for the Saints offense. Taysom Hill produced a touchdown with back-to-back runs that covered 68 yards, but their other five drives of the first half netted 27 yards. Mark Ingram lost a fumble in the third quarter to keep them in the doldrums, but Winston hit four straight passes that culminated in Thomas’ first score to start turning the tide.
The next drive saw them go 81 yards with Thomas, Chris Olave, and Jarvis Landry all coming up with big catches before Thomas’ second score. Winston then set up the winning field goal with a 40-yard strike to Landry and a 17-yard hookup with Juwan Johnson sandwiched around an intentional grounding penalty for spiking the ball with the clock stopped.
Cornerback Marshon Lattimore had a mental error before Koo’s final field goal try as well. He was flagged for unnecessary roughness to move the Falcons close enough for the last-ditch try for the win.
The Saints overcame those and all their other blunders. Winston finished 23-of-34 for 269 yards and two touchdowns while Landry had seven catches for 114 yards in his Saints debut. They’ll try to put together a fuller effort at home against the Bucs next weekend.
Marcus Mariota was 20-of-33 for 215 yards through the air and he ran for 72 yards and a touchdown in his Falcons debut. Cordarrelle Patterson ran 22 times for 120 yards and a score, but all the positives of the first 45-plus minutes for the Falcons went up in smoke at the end. They’ll be in Los Angeles to face the Rams next Sunday.