Saints doing just fine with Brees sidelined again by injury
ATLANTA (AP) — The New Orleans Saints can’t wait to have Drew Brees taking snaps again.
In the meantime, they’re doing just fine without him.
The Saints (9-2) have won two straight games since Brees went down with a rib injury, stretching their overall winning streak to eight in a row heading into Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons. The Saints can clinch a playoff spot with a win and a loss by the Bears.
Going back to last season, New Orleans is 7-0 when Brees hasn’t been able to suit up.
“Obviously when it’s the quarterback, it draws more attention,” said coach Sean Payton, whose team could clinch its fourth straight playoff appearance with a win if the Bears lose or tie vs. Detroit. “But our job as coaches is teaching the whole roster, from the practice squad to the starters. We’re developing all these players.”
Last year, it was Teddy Bridgewater who filled in so ably when Brees went down. This year, Taysom Hill stepped into the starting role.
Hill will be facing the Falcons for the second time in three weeks, having guided the Saints to a 24-9 victory in his first career start on Nov. 22.
“You hope to go long periods of times without injuries, especially at that position, but you want to be able to function, still compete, compete to win,” Payton said. “It’s an approach we’ve always taken — not just the coaches here, but the players as well.”
Hill turned in solid numbers against the Falcons two weeks ago, completing 18 of 23 passes for 233 yards without an interception, while rushing for two touchdowns.
He wasn’t asked to do much in last week’s blowout of the quarterback-less Broncos. Hill was just 9 of 16 passing for 78 yards, with an interception and three sacks.
“I probably played it much closer to the vest because the situation with the Denver offense,” Payton said. “It was two entirely different ballgames, but nonetheless we were able to win them both.”
The Falcons (4-7) are coming off their most complete performance of the season, a 43-6 rout of the Las Vegas Raiders.
Atlanta is 4-2 under interim coach Raheem Morris, who could boost his chances of landing the permanent job with an upset of the Saints.
New Orleans has won five of the past six meetings in the twice-a-year rivalry.
“This team has absolutely owned us,” Morris said. “We’ve got to change that.”
The Saints have the NFL’s best-ranked defense, holding top-five spots against both the run and the pass.
New Orleans has allowed only one touchdown in its last four games, giving up a total of 28 points.
The Falcons were held to three field goals in their loss at New Orleans.
“Everyone that’s playing these guys is struggling,” said Dirk Koetter, Atlanta’s offensive coordinator. “I’ve never seen a defense ranked in the top 10 in so many categories.”
JORDAN VS RYAN
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is tired of seeing Cam Jordan.
The Saints defensive end has sacked Ryan 21 times in his career — an NFL record for most sacks by one player against a single quarterback.
“He’s been a great player for a long time,” Ryan said. “Unfortunately, I’ve gotten to know him a little too well over the years.”
Ryan has been sacked a total of 17 times in his past two games against the Saints, a staggering number the Falcons must reduce to have any chance of an upset. In particular, the pressure is on right tackle Kaleb McGary to do a better job against Jordan.
But everyone must chip in to stop a defense that has 19 sacks in his past five games, including eight against Ryan in the previous meeting.
“We put together a stretch where us as a unit — our secondary, our linebackers and up front, the defensive line — have really elevated our play,” Jordan said. “So, it’s not more of an ‘I’ thing. It’s more of a ‘we’ thing.”
With Hill starting at quarterback, and therefore throwing the ball more, his power runs have become more difficult to anticipate.
The 6-foot-2, 221-pounder has rushed for 93 yards and four TDs in his two starts.
“In the past, it wouldn’t be unusual for a defense to play a certain defense when he’s at the quarterback position,” Payton said. “But, now that he’s there on every snap, it’s probably less likely to get that same defense. ”
The Falcons caused five turnovers in their victory over Las Vegas, their most since 2016.
Deion Jones had a 67-yard interception return for a touchdown and Foye Oluokun forced his fourth fumble of the season, tied for the NFL lead.
But the best — and most surprising performance — was turned in by former practice squad end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, who forced one fumble and recovered two of them to earn NFC defensive players of the week honors.
“The defense has taken a step forward the past couple of weeks,” Tuioti-Mariner said. “It’s a good feeling to be out there flying around with each other.”
Kicker Younghoe Koo has become one of the Falcons’ biggest weapons.
The South Korean leads the NFL in scoring (109 points) and has made 21 field goals in a row since his lone miss in Week 3.
Overall, Koo is 29 of 30 — including 7 of 7 from at least 50 yards.
“We certainly have a lot of confidence in him,” Ryan said. “If we can get past the 40, he’s proven time and time again that he’ll put it through the uprights for us.”
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.
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