Saints eliminated from contention as NFL playoffs kickoff

Saints+linebacker+Kwon+Alexander+finished+with+three+tackles+%28two+solo%29%2C+a+forced+fumble+and+a+fumble+recovery+enroute+to+a+30-20+win+over+the+Atlanta+Falcons.

Matthew Tate

Saints’ linebacker Kwon Alexander finished with three tackles (two solo), a forced fumble and a fumble recovery enroute to a 30-20 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

Jude Papillion, Sports Editor

Despite defeating division rivals, the Atlanta Falcons, 30-20 on the road on Sunday, the New Orleans Saints have been eliminated from the NFL Playoffs for the first time since 2016

The Saints were first to get on the scoreboard at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, thanks to an 18-yard touchdown pass from Taysom Hill to tight end Adam Trautman early in the first quarter. Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo responded with a 48-yard field goal near the end of the quarter. 

Saints kicker Brett Maher opened the second quarter by missing wide-left from 34 yards out, and the Falcons took advantage with another Koo field goal from 54 yards that cut the Saints lead to just one early in the second quarter. 

Hill was injured on the ensuing possession, and Trevor Siemian entered the contest, finding receiver Tre’Quan Smith in the endzone for a 13-yard touchdown snag that brought the score to 14-6 with less than six minutes left in the half. Smith led the Saints in receiving with five receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown. 

Hill was off to one of his best starts of the season, completing seven of his nine passes for 107 yards and a touchdown during his short time on the field. Hill also carried five times for 18 yards. According to Saints head coach Sean Payton, Hill injured his Lisfranc, and the quarterback will undergo two surgeries to repair the injury. 

On the next drive, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was intercepted by Paulson Adebo, allowing Maher to convert a Saints’ field goal from 37 yards out. 

Safety Malcolm Jenkins then forced a fumble on Falcons running back Mike Davis that was recovered by Kwon Alexander of the Saints. The turnover allowed New Orleans to reach the end zone one more time in the half, as Siemian found Juwan Johnson for a 5-yard touchdown with two seconds left.

Neither team scored again until the 2:49 mark in the third quarter, when Qadree Ollison scampered 19-yards for a Falcons touchdown. The Saints responded with another Maher field goal to open the fourth, giving the Black and Gold a 27-13 lead. 

The Falcons opened their next drive with another Mike Davis fumble, this time forced by Alexander and recovered by Shy Tuttle of the Saints. The fumble marked the third one-play drive by Atlanta that ended in a turnover in the game, and the Saints responded with a 33-yard Maher field goal. 

After punts by both teams, the Falcons scored with 21 seconds left in the game on a one-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Russell Gage; however, it was not enough to overcome their deficit, and the Saints took home the 30-20 victory. 

Siemian finished nine for 15 with 71 yards and two touchdowns, and despite not scoring a touchdown, Alvin Kamara finished with a career-high 30 carries for 146 of the Saints’ 195 rushing yards. 

While the Saints needed a win against the Falcons to advance to the postseason, they also needed the Los Angeles Rams to beat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday to make the cut. 

The 49ers faced a 17-0 deficit midway through the second quarter but scored 17 unanswered points on their way to forcing overtime against the Rams. With less than two minutes remaining in the overtime period, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a deep pass intended for receiver Odell Beckham Jr. but was intercepted by Ambry Thomas of the 49ers, crushing the Saints’ hopes of making the postseason.

Despite not making the playoffs, the 9-8 Saints are one of just two teams with at least five consecutive winning seasons, joining the Kansas City Chiefs, and will have the 18th pick in the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft. 

After the retirement of future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees from football, the team’s forced relocation following Hurricane Ida and the loss of a number of key players throughout the season due to injuries and COVID-19, the Saints fought all the way to the end in their 2021-22 campaign. 

“We got resiliency bro,” Alexander said after beating Atlanta. “We just kept our head down and kept fighting through all the stuff we done went through.” 

2022 Pro Bowl selection and Saints’ star defensive end Cameron Jordan echoed Alexander’s sentiment. “Time in the NFL is so finite. You have to be able to fight for each and every down, each and every game. Each season is a marathon and when you come to the last game, it’s a full-on sprint,” Jordan said. “We’ve seen four quarterbacks play for us this year. We’ve had 22 players down for a game and still were overly competitive. And it’s just a part of the defense — our defense has been fighting; our offense has been fighting; our special teams has been fighting this entire season, and for us to not get into the playoffs, it is what it is.”

NFL Playoff action begins this weekend with Super Wild-Card Weekend. The Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans have clinched the top seed in the NFC and AFC respectively, granting both teams a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Wild-card action kicks off on Saturday when the Las Vegas Raiders travel to Cincinnati to face Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals at 3:30 p.m. on NBC. The New England Patriots will then face the Buffalo Bills in New York at 7:15 p.m. on CBS.

On Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles will meet the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at noon on Fox; the 49ers will match up against the Dallas Cowboys at 3:30 p.m. on CBS and the Pittsburgh Steelers will face the Chiefs at 7:15 p.m. on NBC. Wild-card weekend will culminate with the Arizona Cardinals traveling to SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California to face the Rams on ESPN’s Monday Night Football at 7:15 p.m. 

The wild-card winners will advance to one of four divisional-round games, slated to be held on Jan. 22 and Jan. 23. The conference championships will follow on Jan. 30 followed by the Super Bowl on Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium.