The New Orleans Saints defeated the Atlanta Falcons 48-17 on Sunday, but the blowout victory was overshadowed by a controversial touchdown scored by the Saints with just over two minutes remaining. What should have been a kneel-down to run out the clock turned into a player revolt that sent tempers flaring on both sidelines.
Saints Build Insurmountable Lead
The Saints dominated the struggling Falcons from the start, racing out to a 24-7 halftime lead behind three touchdown passes from quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston continued his precision passing in the second half, tossing another two touchdowns to put New Orleans firmly in control with a 41-17 advantage late in the fourth quarter.
With the win safely in hand, head coach Dennis Allen indicated to his players to down the ball if they regained possession, content to run out the clock rather than pour on more points. But when the Saints defense came up with a turnover to give the offense one last crack at the end zone, players took matters into their own hands.
Players Defy Coaches to Score Touchdown
After the turnover, the offense took the field with backup quarterback Andy Dalton under center. But instead of kneeling, running back Jamaal Williams took a handoff and muscled his way across the goal line to give the Saints a 48-17 lead. The score capped off a dominant offensive showing for New Orleans, but visibly angered the Falcons’ sideline.
Several Saints players acknowledged going against Allen’s instructions to kneel down, with the play instead being orchestrated by Winston from the sidelines. Tight end Juwan Johnson defended the move, saying “We felt disrespected as an offense, we didn’t like some things they were doing.”
Other teammates echoed those sentiments, while Allen took responsibility for the lack of communication. “That’s 100 percent on me,” Allen said. “I’ve got to do a better job of communicating that.”
|Saints 10, Falcons 7
|Saints 24, Falcons 7
|Saints 34, Falcons 17
|Saints 48, Falcons 17
Falcons Coach Livid Over “Bull****” Touchdown
The Saints’ late touchdown did not sit well at all with first-year Falcons coach Arthur Smith, who let his displeasure be known. Smith was spotted having a heated exchange with Allen after the game, visibly upset over what he considered a classless move.
“What the f*** are you doing?!” Smith appeared to yell towards the Saints sideline. He continued to vent in his postgame press conference, blasting the “bull****” play call that showed “no f****** respect.”
While tensions seemed to boil over in the moment, Allen was conciliatory afterwards, taking the blame for the communication breakdown. But Smith may not be ready to forgive so quickly. Coming off a disappointing debut season in Atlanta, criticism will only intensify after his team ended the year with an embarrassing blowout loss.
Reactions Roll In From Around The NFL
It didn’t take long for strong takes to start flooding the internet regarding the Saints’ controversial touchdown. FS1 analyst Shannon Sharpe said he would have cut Winston for orchestrating the score, calling it a “loser mentality.” Others argued the Falcons got what they deserved after refusing to substitute backup players late in a decided game.
Even LeBron James weighed in, tweeting his disbelief while former Saints tight end Jimmy Graham defended his old team’s actions. The debate is likely to rage on heading into the offseason, especially if Allen faces repercussions from Saints ownership for losing control of his team.
What Next For Dennis Allen and Arthur Smith?
Allen seemingly regrets not putting his foot down to avoid the ugly postgame confrontation with Smith. Despiteleading the Saints to a promising 7-3 finish after replacing Sean Payton, Allen’s job security could now be in question after failing to rein in his players at a critical time.
But the hottest seat remains firmly underneath Arthur Smith in Atlanta. Coming off a 7-10 record after the Falcons brass cleaned house last offseason, Smith has only managed marginal improvement thus far. If the embattled coach can’t turn things around quickly next season, he likely won’t get many more chances to face off against division rival New Orleans down the road.
While an otherwise drama-free blowout win would have been ideal, the Saints and Falcons have instead entered the offseason under a dark cloud of controversy. How it impacts each franchise long-term remains to be seen. But at least for now, Dennis Allen has some fires within his own locker room that need extinguishing after his team closed the 2023 campaign by pouring gasoline on a smoldering rivalry.
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