The outcomes in NFL games, most coaches and players will tell you, usually come down to a handful of plays.
Against Atlanta, there were five:
1.) On the game's first drive, the Saints offense was dealing. They moved right down the field and inched closer to the end zone. On a 2nd & 9, Drew Brees hit Jimmy Graham for a seven-yard gain. But the play was negated when Zach Strief was flagged for an illegal hands to the face. That pushed the Saints back ten yards. On the next play, Brees missed Graham again on an out route. On third down, Brees connected with Brandin Cooks but well short of the first down. The Saints had to settle for a field goal when a touchdown was in their reach.
2.) At the 4:43 mark of the second quarter, with the Saints up 13-0, the Falcons were facing a 3rd & 12. Matt Ryan completed a short pass to Devonta Freeman, Keenan Lewis was in position to make the tackle but Freeman broke free to convert the first down. On the next play, the Falcons scored a touchdown. A stop there would have likely forced a field goal.
3.) Just before halftime the Saints offense flawlessly executed a four-minute drill to go up 20-7. There was less than :20 remaining when Ryan struck again. This time he connected with Roddy White on a 39-yard completion with just four second left to set up a field goal before half. It would be the first of 17 straight points for Atlanta. That sequence is what began the momentum shift inside the Georgia Dome.
4.) Late in the third quarter, the Saints were deep in Falcons terriroty. That's when Brees located Cooks again, but this time he slightly underthrew his target and was picked off by Robert McClain in the end zone. The pick took seven points off the board for the Saints.