NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - It's no secret that the Saints struggle on third down. They're converting just 38.4 percent of the time this year compared to picking up a league-leading 48.6 percent of third downs last year.
Today was no different as the black and gold converted just three of 10 third down attempts.
"We put ourselves in long distance situations to get the first down, and it's tough for the coach to call plays like that," says wide receiver Willie Snead. "We just have to be more efficient on first and second down and taking care of the ball. And when we get those third downs, make sure they're third and shorts and not third and forevers."
But the bigger issue behind some of their offensive troubles lies within the Saints problems getting the ball vertically down the field. Apart from what we'll call "the Michael Thomas drive" where he caught four passes for 50 yards and a touchdown, they struggled throwing the ball more than a few yards past the line of scrimmage. In fact, Thomas's nine catches were more than twice as many as the rest of the wide receivers combined.
"I didn't think we played very well up front or at any position offensively," says head coach Sean Payton. "I thought Mike (Thomas) played well."
"He's been doing that all year," says Snead. "He's been doing a great job of preparing himself for those situations. I just think he's the ultimate competitor. He goes out there and gets it. I'm just happy that he's on my team."
That sequence from Thomas broke a streak of six straight scoreless Saints drives, including four where they didn't pick up a single first down and two that ended in Brandon Coleman fumbles. Thomas is humble about it, but he knows that he put the offense on his back.
"In the most unselfish way, yeah," says Thomas. "But I feel like a lot of guys did their jobs and did a lot of great things on film. It wasn't just that moment, but when that moment came, I was consistent. I did my job."
As coach Payton said after the game, the Saints won't get away with today's mistakes against better teams and still be able to win. That's especially true for next week's rematch with the Falcons on Christmas Eve. Three turnovers and converting just 30 percent of third downs won't get the job done.