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Saints sunk by stagnant offense, defensive penalties

The promising opening campaign of the Saints ended when Atlanta Falcons linebacker De’Vondre Campbell fired Drew Brees in third and goal.

What initially looked like a momentary slip ended up setting the tone for an unusually miserable day for New Orleans.

Brees was fired five more times and the Saints lost 26-9, unable to score a touchdown at home with Brees in the center for the first time in his 14 years with New Orleans.

“I am proud to get the ball,” Brees said. “It was a lack of execution at all, so he summed up the game right there.”

The surprise result ended with the six-game winning streak of the Saints and the six-game skid of the Falcons.

Atlanta almost doubled its previous season total of seven catches in a game.

Brees had not been fired more than three times since 2015, and six matched his maximum with the Saints. New Orleans had allowed 12 catches in eight games, including more than five games with Teddy Birdgwater backup padding after Brees underwent thumb surgery in mid-September.

Three bags arrived on the third occasion. Two arrived after the Saints had the first goal. The last one was in fourth opportunity.

“We had a lot of passing situations,” said offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, noting that the Falcons regularly performed stunts that sent edge runners through the middle. “We couldn’t pick up a couple of them and they were arriving.”

With the two teams leaving weeks before, the Saints lost the momentum they had created before the break.

“Choose a situation, and there is a good chance (the Falcons) won that situation,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.

Payton highlighted the third chance conversions. The Saints were 3 of 12 on the third occasion, and the Falcons were 6 of 15, but Atlanta also picked up three first penalty attempts when the defense thought it was leaving the field.

A face-to-face call from Marcus Davenport and a call waiting on cornerback Marshon Lattimore extended a 17-play 75-yard touchdown that put the Falcons forward 10-3 with 11:09 remaining in the second quarter.

A hand-to-face flag on cornerback CJ Gardner-Johnson, who played after Lattimore left with a thigh injury, prolonged a touchdown of 13 plays and 75 yards while the Falcons advanced 20-9 at the beginning of the fourth trimester.

“A talented offensive like that will make you pay for it,” defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. “It was only a matter of time before they could capitalize on those mistakes.”

The Saints picked up one first in their first three fourth-quarter possessions, sealing their fate and leaving them wondering what happened.

“This is not a team we overlook,” said Ramczyk. “It’s a divisional game and they have a lot of talent.”

It was a difficult day for the saints. In one of his rare conversions on the third attempt, the Tre’Quan Smith catcher finished with a broken lip after his helmet flew when the Falcons cornerback Damontae Kazee drilled him.

“When I got up, my whole mouth was bleeding,” Smith said.

The hard capture led to Wil Lutz’s 28-yard field goal that reduced the deficit to 13-9, but the Falcons moved away from there.

“We had a lot of self-inflicted wounds,” said defensive end Cam Jordan. “You must be able to defeat the man in front of you. It is quite difficult to do it when you continue to step on your own feet.”

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