ATLANTA — A swarm of bright red succumbed Deion Jones as he held the ball tightly in the end zone.
The Atlanta Falcons linebacker, decked in his all red color rush uniform, gave the home crown an adrenaline rush in the final moments of Thursday night’s showdown with the New Orleans Saints.
Jones intercepted Drew Brees in the end zone, capping a heck of a defensive effort against a potent Saints offense in what no doubt was the biggest Falcons’ win of the season – a 20-17 triumph over their biggest rival and the NFC South leaders.
Now the Falcons, at 8-5, can continue the playoff conversation. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Falcons chances to make the playoff increased from 36 percent to 52 percent with the win. Had they loss, those chances would have dropped to 19 percent.
Most figured the offense would be the one guiding the Falcons to victory, if anything. But reigning MVP Matt Ryan struggled miserable with three interception, two of them which appeared to be solely on him. Penalties were a factor again on offense. And there was a questionable declined penalty late by Falcons coach Dan Quinn that allowed the Saints to convert a fourth-and-1 and keep their potentially game-winning drive.
Then Jones, the New Orleans native who grew up rooting for the Saints, stepped in and stole the show. Literally.
It was Brees’ first red-zone interception of the season and just the Falcons’ fourth interception of the season. Jones recorded his second interception to tie Desmond Trufant for the team lead. And the Falcons limited the Saints to 3 of 10 on third down, part of the reason a team that came into the game scoring 29.4 points per game only managed 17.
Give defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel credit for dialing up pressure at the right time. Both Dontari Poe and Adrian Clayborn had key third-down sacks to foil Saints’ possession.
True, the Falcons benefited on offense from a slew of penalties by the Saints that resulted in first downs. No matter how they got it done, it was an important victory. Touchdowns by Devonta Freeman and Mohamed Sanu, along with field goals by Matt Bryant — who reached 1,000-career points — helped secured the win.
Now the Falcons, still seventh in the playoff picture right behind Carolina, have to build off the win, no matter how ugly it was. They have consecutive road games against Tampa Bay and at New Orleans before finishing the season at home against Carolina. The postseason is within reach, if the Falcons handle their business.
The fact that Jones and defense is stepping up the right time is a positive sign that could lead right to a postseason berth.
Despite three interceptions by Matt Ryan — two of which seemed to be solely on him — the Falcons found a way to finish against the rival Saints and make sure their season wasn’t finished quite.
Defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel’s defense came up with some key stops against Drew Brees and a potent Saints’ offense that averaged 29.4 points per game coming into Thursday night. Those stops gave Ryan and