ATLANTA — — A new coach. A group of guys coming back from injuries. 16-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
None of that unnerved the New Orleans Saints, who pulled off an amazing comeback on Sunday.
Wil Lutz kicked a 51-yard field goal with 19 seconds remaining after Jameis Winston guided a pair of lightning-fast touchdown drives, giving the Saints a 27-26 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Dennis Allen’s coaching debut. .
“It was exciting,” Winston said with a smile. “We just have to find a way to get there faster.”
After struggling offensively for most of the season opener, the Saints finally found their groove.
Winston threw for 269 yards after going down last season on Halloween with a knee injury. Michael Thomas caught a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes in his first game since the 2020 season, having missed an entire season with complications from an ankle injury.
And Lutz delivered in the end, showing that he is fully recovered from a core issue that kept him out for all of 2021.
“I’m happy with our resiliency,” Winston said. “We never gave up.”
Winston hooked up with Thomas on touchdown passes of 3 and 9 yards. The Saints converted one 2-point attempt but missed the other, leaving the Falcons clinging to a 26-24 lead.
New Orleans got the ball back once again, taking control at its own 20-yard line with 48 seconds remaining and no timeouts.
Winston hit a 40-yard pass to Jarvis Landry and a 17-yard pass to Juwan Johnson to set up lutz is winning Field goal.
A personal foul on the Saints gave the Falcons a chance to pull out the win, but younghoe kooThe 63-yard field goal attempt was blocked as time ran out.
It was a poignant start to the Allen era.
He replaced Sean Payton, who coached the team for 15 years and led New Orleans to its only Super Bowl title before surprisingly resigning after last season.
Allen, his defensive coordinator, got the job, even though his first stint as head coach resulted in an 8-28 record with the Raiders in 2012-14.
Make it 9-28.
“I hope they’re not all like that,” Allen said. “Look, our team is tough and brave. That’s what I love about them. That is exactly the way they played in this game. It wasn’t perfect. We have a lot of things to clean.
The Falcons, who seemingly never recovered from blowing a 28-3 lead in the 2017 Super Bowl, added another collapse to their resume in their first game of the post-Matt Ryan era.
Cordarrelle Patterson rushed for a career-high 120 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown broke out, and Marcus Mariota made his first start since 2019 as Ryan’s replacement.
Mariota threw for 215 yards and added 72 on the ground, highlighted by a 2-yard touchdown run.
But in the end, the Falcons let what seemed like a sure win slip away.
“You wrote our obituary in May and you will continue to write our obituary,” second-year coach Arthur Smith complained to reporters. “Who cares? We have 16 games to learn from this and improve.”
Winston was looted four times for a team that had a league-low 18 sacks a year ago. He passed for just 24 yards in the first half, but made all the throws when he really counted.
Landry had seven catches for 114 yards and Thomas had five catches for 57 yards.
“It was a blessing to be back with the guys,” said Thomas, who had an NFL-record 149 receptions in 2019 but was playing only his eighth game since then.
Lutz was kicking himself after his first field goal attempt from 44 yards hit the left post.
He recovered to make a 49-yard pass before hitting the game-winner.
“Obviously getting out of a failure is hard,” Lutz said. “But that’s what we signed up to do. I’m thankful that the defense gave me a chance to come back and the offense put me in position to make the kick. It feels very good”.
Atlanta RB Damien Williams suffered a rib injury in the first quarter, forcing Patterson to shoulder most of the running load. The Falcons activated only one other running back, Avery Williams, choosing not to play rookie Tyler Allgeier.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
Saints: Home opener next Sunday against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Falcons: Hit the road to take on the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams in the first of two straight games on the West Coast.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963