NEW ORLEANS (AP) — While the New Orleans Saints’ mathematical playoff hopes might be more the stuff of fantasy than reality, they’re evidently not giving up.
Their 21-18 victory over Atlanta on Sunday demonstrated that.
“It’s not always pretty. It’s not always easy," Saints quarterback Andy Dalton said after they held on for the win, thanks in part to an Atlanta turnover as the Falcons approached field-goal range inside the final three minutes.
"The good thing is we had an opportunity to win it and we took care of business and we did that.”
Now the Saints have to try to win two in a row — something they have yet to do this season.
“Our mindset and our goal is to finish the season the right way and win the next three,” Dalton said.
After Tampa Bay (6-8) lost to Cincinnati on Sunday, New Orleans (5-9) was in a three-way tie with Atlanta and Carolina for second — and last — place in the anemic NFC South. But because the Buccaneers have beaten the Saints twice, New Orleans will have to make up two games on Tampa Bay in the final three weeks of the regular season.
Saints linebacker Demario Davis said the best way the Saints can improve their fortunes is to not dwell on playoff scenarios.
“I'd rather just deal with what’s in front of us and deal with reality," Davis said Monday. "Control what you can control. We know we have a game this week and that’s what we’re focused on — how well we can prepare to go out and beat a really good Cleveland team in a challenging environment. And that’s going to take an incredible amount of focus, and so you can’t focus on anything else.”
The Saints, who seldom play in cold weather, will have to contend not only with the Browns but also playing outdoors on the shores of Lake Erie in what are forecast to be freezing temperatures.
“It's going to be cold and windy for both teams and so we're not going to make too big a deal about it," Saints coach Dennis Allen Said. “The focus really has to be on the team we're playing and not really about the elements.”
Entering Monday, the Saints rank seventh in pass defense in the NFL after allowing just 97 yards through the air on Sunday. And that's with top cornerback Marshon Lattimore missing more than half the season.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Falcons rushed for a season-high 231 yards against New Orleans on Sunday.
But while Allen said he would like to have seen better defensive numbers against the run, he added, “The job of the defense is to minimize scoring.“
The Saints have allowed an average of 17.6 points during their past five games.
“I think that’s winning football,” Allen asserted." So we've got to continue to do what the ultimate goal is, to limit the number of points allowed.”
Tight end Juwan Johnson and undrafted rookie receiver Rashid Shaheed.
Johnson, an undrafted rookie of Oregon in 2020 who was converted from a receiver to tight end in 2021, caught both of Dalton's touchdown passes on Sunday. That gives Johnson a team-leading seven TD catches.
“He attacks every day," Allen said. "He understands that we're fortunate to be able to do what we do for a living and I don't think he takes that for granted.”
Johnson is “a playmaker and one of those guys we're obviously trying to get the ball in his hands,” fellow tight end and part-time QB Taysom Hill said.
Shaheed's 68-yard touchdown reception on a deep pass from Hill against Atlanta was Shaheed's third scoring play this season. All of his TDs have gone for 44 yards or more.
“It's hard to find guys that can run like him,” Hill said.
Running back David Johnson, playing in his second game for the Saints, gained just 12 yards on four carries and lost a fumble inside the Atlanta 20-yard line.
There did not appear to be significant injuries during the game for New Orleans, but the Saints played a ninth straight game without top cornerback Marshon Lattimore (abdomen) and also scratched defensive end Payton Turner because of his ankle injury.
58 — The number of years between Hall of Famer Frank Gifford's last game in 1964 and this past Sunday, when Hill became the first player since Gifford to have double-digit TDs passing, running and receiving in his career.
The Saints' visit to Cleveland on Saturday will be the first of two road games in consecutive weeks before their regular-season finale back home. The Saints will visit Philadelphia in Week 17.
Meanwhile, New Orleans this past offseason was among the teams interesting in acquiring QB Deshaun Watson. Now they'll try to prevent him from knocking them out of the playoff picture.
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