NEW ORLEANS — Tevin Coleman rushed for three touchdowns, Matt Ryan passed for two TDs, and Deion Jones returned an interception 90 yards for a score to help the Atlanta Falcons beat the winless New Orleans Saints 45-32 on Monday night.
The game was played nearly 10 years to the day after the Saints’ memorable return to the Superdome on Sept. 25, 2006, 13 months after Hurricane Katrina.
But there would be no reprise of New Orleans’ dominant and emotional 23-3 triumph a decade ago.
The Saints’ depleted defense struggled to slow down Devonta Freeman, who rushed for 152 yards and caught five passes for 55 yards. Coleman also was effective in the passing game out of the backfield, with three receptions for 47 yards to go with his 42 yards rushing.
Ryan finished with 240 yards passing for Atlanta (2-1) which did not turn the ball over and moved into sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
Drew Brees put up his usual big numbers – 376 yards and three TDs passing – but his interception for a touchdown on a tipped pass early in the fourth quarter gave the Falcons a 45-25 lead that proved too much for New Orleans to overcome.
The loss dropped the Saints (0-3) in last place – a far cry from their 3-0 start in 2006.
A cruel irony for the Saints was the way they lost the early momentum on – of all plays – a Falcons punt.
A decade earlier, the Saints seized the early momentum on Steve Gleason’s block of a Falcons punt that was recovered for a touchdown.
On Monday night, New Orleans had raced to a 7-0 lead and forced a Falcons punt on a sack, only to turn the ball over when punt returner Tommylee Lewis was run into by teammate De’Vante Harris. After the collision knocked Lewis to the ground, the ball came down right on him, bounced away and was recovered by Atlanta on the 11, setting up Coleman’s first TD.
Atlanta star Julio Jones played despite missing a couple practices during the week because of a sore calf.
He did not make his first catch until the second half, on the sixth pass of the game intended for him. That play went for 16 yards. That was his only catch.
The Falcons rushed for 217 yards against New Orleans’ porous defense, highlighted by runs of 48, 36, and 26 yards by Freeman.
Freeman said he enjoyed the heavy workload in 2015, but doesn’t mind sharing the job with Coleman – as long as Atlanta is winning.
On Monday, Freeman had 14 carries and Coleman 12 for 42 yards.
“If it works, don’t try to fix it,” Freeman said. “Whatever we’ve got to do to win. Whatever I’ve got to do to help my team win, that’s what I’m all about.”