Saints win 7th straight, beat Falcons in Hill’s first start

Sports

New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) drops back to pass in the first half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Taysom Hill rushed for two touchdowns and passed for 233 yards in his first NFL start at quarterback, and the New Orleans Saints beat the Atlanta Falcons 24-9 on Sunday for their seventh straight victory.

With 41-year-old quarterback Drew Brees sidelined at least three games with multiple rib fractures, Saints coach Sean Payton gave Hill the nod over offseason free-agent acquisition Jameis Winston.

Hill, who started his career as a utility player with the Saints in 2017, looked comfortable running the scheme Payton designed for him this week. He completed 18 of 23 passes (78.3%) without an interception and used his all-around athleticism to run intermittently on scrambles or designed read-option plays, finishing with a team-high 51 yards rushing.

He had a considerably better day than Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, who was sacked eight times and finished 19-of-37 passing for 232 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions to defensive backs Marcus Williams and Janoris Jenkins. Cameron Jordan sacked Ryan three times, while Trey Hendrickson and David Onyemata each had two sacks.

Because of Hill’s unconventional role, with duties ranging from change-of-pace option QB to tight end and special teams, he had played in 46 previous NFL games before finally getting his first start under center.

He entered having thrown just five passes with four completions for 86 yards this season, and was 10 of 18 for 205 yards in his career, leaving him relatively unproven as a passer.

Not anymore. Despite a level of athleticism that would have made scrambling a tempting default choice, he regularly showed patience and poise in the pocket and delivered accurate passes moments before impact from onrushing defenders.

Hill was among the last to leave the field after the game, raising one hand to acknowledge cheers of the pandemic-limited crowd of about 6,000.

All that was missing was a first-career scoring pass — in part because of how effective the Saints were running the ball. Alvin Kamara scored New Orleans’ first TD on a 3-yard run, Hill scored the second on a keeper on fourth down from the Atlanta 2, and Hill’s second TD came on a 10-yard scramble.

Kamara, Hill and Latavius Murray powered a ground game that netted 168 yards, which helped the Saints (8-2) sustain drives that consumed a total of 33:41.

New Orleans’ second-ranked run defense held Atlanta to 52 yards rushing, and the Saints defense did not allow a touchdown for the second time in three games — with only one touchdown given up in between.

The Falcons (3-7) struck first with a field goal set up by Ryan’s 46-yard completion to Calvin Ridley and led 9-3 on three Younghoe Koo kicks before the Saints responded with 21 straight points.

MAKING HISTORY

Kamara became the first players in NFL history with at least 500 yards rushing and receiving in each of his first four NFL seasons.

Michael Thomas recorded his 482nd career catch during the first half, giving him ownership of the record for most catches in an NFL player’s first five seasons. He finished the game with 489 after catching nine passes for 104 yards.

INURIES

Falcons: Linebacker Mykal Walker limped off in the second quarter favoring his left hamstring. Linebacker Foyesade Oluokun was treated on the field and walked to the sidelined in the fourth quarter. Receiver Julio Jones saw limited action because of hamstring tightness and made two catches for 39 yards.

Saints: Left guard Andrus Peat left with a concussion and Deonte Harris left with a stinger, both in the first half.

UP NEXT

Falcons: Host Oakland on Sunday.

Saints: Visit Denver on Sunday.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

NBA Stats