For their first game of the 2022 NFL regular season, the New Orleans Saints took the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to face their old rivals, the Atlanta Falcons. It’s a classic match, dating back to the early 1970’s. As of late, the Saints have had the upper hand, but with the ferocity of the teams and the level of preparation Week 1 matchups warrant, the outcome was impossible to predict.

Offensively, this Saints team is loaded. The return of Jameis Winston from a season-ending ACL injury and Michael Thomas from season-ending foot surgery are major storylines for the NFC South division’s place in the NFL. New free agent signee Jarvis Landry and returning team rushing leader Alvin Kamara also figure to be major pieces. On the defensive side: Pro Bowl-award-winning cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Marshon Lattimore star in the secondary, and a stellar front seven are headlined by 100-sack-club member Cameron Jordan.

Atlanta would end its first drive with a field goal. After a three-and-out from both teams, the Saints would open their scoring in spectacular fashion; a direct snap to veteran playmaker Taysom Hill would lead to an impressive 57-yard run, and a repeat of the play just an attempt later would lead to a Saints touchdown.

A fumble by Falcons receiver Olamide Zaccheaus would set up Winston with a short field. The team would repeatedly fail to capitalize, though, and Wil Lutz would miss a 44-yard field goal by hitting the left upright. The Falcons would take the lead in the second quarter, with a series of gashing runs by Cordarrelle Patterson and two field goals by Younghoe Koo creating a 7–16 deficit for the Saints entering the second half.

The Saints’ running backs had an unexpectedly rough game. Kamara and Mark Ingram II combined for just 61 yards on 10 carries and a lost fumble, as the Saints spent most of the game trying to pass its way out of a bad situation instead of rushing and wasting the clock.

The true MVP of the game on the Saints side was always going to be Michael Thomas. Near the beginning of the fourth quarter, facing an intimidating 26–10 lead in favor of Atlanta, deep passes to Juwan Johnson and Jarvis Landry were capped off with a goal line fade to Thomas, and the next drive would again feature Thomas on a 21-yard snag and the score-sealing grab to put the game within reach at 26–24.

After forcing a punt after a lengthy seven-play drive by the Falcons, the Saints would get one last shot with less than a minute and no timeouts. Winston would immediately unleash on a deep route to Landry for a 40-yard gain, and spiked the ball. An intentional grounding call would bring the ball back 10 yards, and run 10 seconds off the clock. With 38 seconds left, Winston again rolled the dice on a shot to Juwan Johnson, which put the ball at the 33-yard line. This set up the defining play of the game – a 51-yard field goal by Will Lutz to take the lead for good, 28–26. A subsequent attempt at a 63-yard field goal by Koo was blocked by Saints defensive end and special-teamer Payton Turner to end the game.

As a whole, this was a positive game for the whole team. Even though the offense was stagnant for the most part, the defense made stops when they mattered in the second half and gave Winston and company a chance to make plays and roll the dice. It would have been nice to see the team establish an actual run game and dominate on that front with a lead. I just hope the entire season doesn’t have to be this close. I’ll give it a light B.

In terms of watchability: while the majority of the game was emotionally deflating, nothing could have prepared me for the last quarter of this game. Winston literally had me on the edge of my seat leaning all the way forward. For those last two minutes, I stood up and paced back and forth, and jumped up when the field goal was good. I’d give it an A++ if I could.

For their next matchup, the Saints will head home to Caesars Superdome to face Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.