THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Falcons tighten NFC South race with 20-17 win over Saints


THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Falcons tighten NFC South race with 20-17 win over Saints

ATLANTA -- With the season potentially hanging in the balance, Deion Jones leaped high in the air, about as high as he could go.

He reached even higher, snatching the ball away before it could reach the intended target.

Holding on for dear life with both arms, the Atlanta Falcons linebacker landed flat on his back in the end zone, the ball secured tightly against his chest.

No way he was letting go.

Jones made a leaping interception in the end zone with 1:25 remaining and the Falcons held on for a crucial 20-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night, setting up a three-way race for the NFC South title.

"It was all about the ball," Jones said. "I just opened up my eyes, and all my brothers were right there, standing over me. It was great."

Matt Ryan shook off three interceptions to guide the Falcons to Matt Bryant's 52-yard field goal with 3:49 to go. The Saints (9-4) were in position to pull out the victory, driving to the Atlanta 11 after Drew Brees converted on fourth-and-1 with a quarterback sneak, as coach Sean Payton passed on attempting a tying field goal.

On second down, Brees attempted to hit tight end Josh Hill in the back of the end zone.

Jones had other ideas.

"When it takes a while to land, you know you're up there," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "He definitely went up and reached for it."

The Falcons (8-5) climbed within one game of the division-leading Saints with three weeks to go, as New Orleans squandered a chance to build a three-game lead on the defending division champs. Atlanta is back in the race and gets another crack at New Orleans when the teams meet again in the next-to-last week of the regular season at the Superdome.

The Carolina Panthers (8-4) also are right in the thick of things.

Ryan had three interceptions in a stretch of nine plays at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second. But he tied the game with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu with 9:55 remaining , finishing 15 of 27 for 221 yards.

Brees was 26 of 35 for 271 yards and two TDs. Yet he was kicking himself for trying to force one at the end.

On the opening possession, New Orleans lost half of its dynamic 1-2 punch in the backfield when rookie Alvin Kamara took a shot to the helmet and staggered off with a concussion.

Mark Ingram was left to carry the load as the "Boom and Zoom" duo became simply "Boom." He was held to 49 yards on 12 carries as the Saints largely abandoned one of the league's top rushing attacks. Michael Thomas had 10 catches for 117 yards and a TD .

With Atlanta trying to drive into position for a tiebreaking field goal in the waning seconds of the opening half, Ryan threw a terrible pass that was picked off by rookie Marshon Lattimore, who was back in the lineup after missing two games with an ankle injury.

Lattimore returned it 33 yards to the Atlanta 29 with 4 seconds remaining, setting up Wil Lutz to boot a 47-yard field goal as time expired. But the Falcons caught a break when the Saints failed to have seven blocked on the line of scrimmage, and the penalty resulted in a mandatory 10-second runoff that ended the half with the score tied at 10.


After getting picked off on Atlanta's last play of the first half, Ryan went to the air again on the first play of the second half.

Same result, though it wasn't Ryan's fault.

The ball went through the arms of tight end Austin Hooper, rolled up on his back and was intercepted by Chris Banjo, setting up the 1-yard scoring pass to Thomas.

On Atlanta's next possession, Ryan guided the Falcons to the New Orleans 9. On third down, he attempted to force a pass into the end zone for Julio Jones only to be picked off again by Marcus Williams.

It was the second time this season and ninth time in his career that Ryan has thrown three interceptions in a game.


It was a brutal night for the Saints, which is sure to raise more questions after the health risks of playing on Thursday nights.

In addition to Kamara's injury, New Orleans lost another offensive guard and three starters on defense.

Guard Senio Kelemete, filling in for injured starter Andrus Peat (groin), left with a concussion. That forced the Saints to go with Josh LeRibeus, the backup center.

On defense, the Saints lost linebacker A.J. Klein in the first half with a groin injury. Starting defensive end Trey Hendrickson left with an ankle injury and strong safety Kenny Vaccaro was sidelined with a groin injury.

"A lot of different guys go down," coach Sean Payton said. "That became challenging."


Saints: Host the New York Jets (5-7) on Dec. 17 in the first of two straight home games.

Falcons: After a short turnaround for the Thursday night game, Atlanta has an 11-day break before returning to action with a Monday night contest at Tampa Bay (4-8) on Dec. 18.


Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

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Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

Johnny Manziel said 10 days ago, "I'd go to New England in a heartbeat," when asked about the Patriots as a potential landing spot.

That seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but they're taking a look at him...along with 12 other NFL teams, according to ESPN's Eric Williams. 

Tom Brady's current backup Brian Hoyer is, like Manziel, an ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback. Manziel would again be competing with Hoyer for the Pats' No. 2 job should New England take a chance on "Johnny Football", the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems.

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had it at 12 teams watching Manziel work out at the University of San Diego and said the Patriots gave Manziel a weigh-in.


Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

The Patriots have agreed to re-sign offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, his agent Scott Casterline confirmed on Twitter.  Waddle hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year began and made a visit to the Cowboys earlier this week. In the end, though, he chose to return to the team that claimed him off of waivers at the end of the 2015 season.

Waddle, who turns 27 in July, appeared in 12 games last season for the Patriots. He was the first right tackle the Patriots turned to when Marcus Cannon suffered an ankle injury mid-season against the Chargers. He ended up playing 51 snaps against the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram without allowing a sack. He then started the next three games against the Broncos, Raiders and Dolphins and held star rushers Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Cameron Wake -- all of whom rush primarily off of the offensive right -- without a sack. 

Injuries forced Waddle (380 snaps on the season) to split the right tackle position with Cameron Fleming (543 snaps), but he was the primary backup when healthy. Waddle started the Divisional Round playoff game against the Titans but suffered a knee injury and was removed for Fleming. 

Both Fleming and Waddle visited the Cowboys this week, and the fact that Waddle has re-signed with the Patriots may impact Fleming's decision moving forward. 

The Patriots went to great lengths to build tackle depth last season, and adding Waddle to the roster helps them retain some of that depth after losing their left tackle, Nate Solder, to the Giants via free agency. Waddle could be an option on the left side, but the vast majority of his work since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2013 has been on the right side. 

The Patriots now have Fleming, Marcus Cannon, Cole Croston, Tony Garcia and Andrew Jelks on their depth chart at tackle. Croston, Garcia and Jelks are all headed into their second years as pros. Croston remained on the 53-man roster all season -- an indication that the Patriots liked him enough not to expose him to the waiver system -- but did not see meaningful snaps. Garcia and Jelks both missed the entirety of the 2017 season on reserve lists. 

Once the Patriots lost Solder to the Giants, it seemed to be of paramount importance that the Patriots re-sign either Waddle or Fleming. Behind Cannon, there were simply too many question marks not to have one return. The Patriots could opt to draft a tackle, but this is considered an average year at that position in that there are few ready-made NFL players and several developmental types.

Before the Super Bowl last season, I asked offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia how the team was able to manage offensively with backups at right tackle for much of the season. 

"It's not like [Fleming and Waddle are] not good players," Scarnecchia said. "They are good players. Their skill set seemed to fit that position pretty well. They have the traits that we covet. And they're both really smart guys, very willing learners, and they're both driven to be good and they want to play good. And I think all those things have manifested themselves when they've been out there playing. And we've been very, very pleased with what they've done for us this year, essentially splitting that position."

Asked about the aspects of the game the Patriots worked on with both Waddle and Fleming last year, Scarnecchia said, "For us it transcends everything. Obviously run-blocking and pass-blocking. They're both good at those things. Are they great at those things? No. But they've been able to steadily improve over the last two years to the point where we put them out there and no one's worried. And it's been that way the whole season after Marcus got hurt. Yeah they've done a nice job for us."