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NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Saints’ eighth game Sunday was a microcosm of their 2021 season.
They fell behind big, 24-6. They came back strong and took the lead, 25-24. They blew it as time ran out, losing 27-25 to Atlanta in the Louisiana Superdome. Up and down again, but in the end, they lost no ground in the NFC South.
New Orleans (5-3) remains in sole possession of second place behind Super Bowl defending champion Tampa Bay (6-2), which was idle after losing here last week, 36-27.
New Orleans has two wins this season over first place teams — Tampa Bay and Green Bay (7-2), which has the second-best record in the NFL and leads the NFC North. The Saints also have a win over New England (5-4), which is second in the AFC East. New Orleans plays at AFC South leader Tennessee (6-2) at noon central Sunday on CBS. AFC East-leading Buffalo (5-3) will be in the Dome on Thanksgiving night (7:20 p.m., NBC) with Philadelphia (3-6) away before than on Nov. 21 (noon, CBS).
The Saints’ three losses are to teams that are .500 or worse — Atlanta (4-4), the New York Giants (3-6) and Carolina (4-5).
“All things considered, we’ve had an interesting first half of the season,” veteran strong safety Malcolm Jenkins said Sunday. “We’ve competed well. We can play with anybody. The biggest thing for us that we don’t like is the inconsistency.”
Jenkins, a 13-year veteran, was on the Saints’ Super Bowl championship team in the 2009 season and Philadelphia’s in the 2017 season before returning to New Orleans in 2020.
“If we want to be the team we want, we have to figure out how to continually be consistent even in some adverse situations,” he said. “Our margin for error if we want to succeed is going to be smaller.”
Rookie cornerback Paulson Adebo left a miniscule margin between his hand and the ball when Atlanta running back Cordarrelle Patterson caught a bomb from quarterback Matt Ryan with under a minute to play and the Saints leading 25-24 Sunday. Patterson made the catch and got to the Saints’ 11-yard line for a 64-yard gain that set up the game-winning 29-yard field goal by Younghoe Koo as time expired.
New Orleans was without safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who left the game in the first half with a foot injury. Backup Bradley Roby and Adebo tried to fill the gap.
“They were playing some different roles. It just calls for guys to be up, but I think we played well,” Jenkins said.
“We had to make some adjustments,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “Hopefully, he can get back on the field quicker than later. It’s tough. He’s a good football player.”
The Saints receivers continue to struggle without Michael Thomas, who has missed all season with an ankle injury and is not returning this year. Kenny Stills’ 8-yard catch for a 25-24 lead with 1:01 to go was his first touchdown of the season. He had the least separation from defenders of any receiver or tight end in the NFL on Sunday at 0.9 yards, according to the NFL’s Next Gen statistics. He finished with two catches for 30 yards after being thrown to five times.
Tight end Adam Trautman, who caught four passes for 47 yards amid seven targets, was third worst at 1.1. Still had two drops. Trautman dropped a fourth-and-three pass from quarterback Trevor Siemian that could have given the Saints a first down near the Atlanta 30-yard line in the second quarter with Atlanta up 3-0.
“I thought we dropped a few balls, more than our fair share” Payton said. “It wasn’t just the receivers. I saw other guys dropping balls.”
Former Cleveland wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. goes on the market on Tuesday, but the Saints are considered a long shot to be able to get him.
Siemian played well after a slow opening in his first start since 2019, finishing 25 of 41 for 249 yards and two touchdowns. Last week, he replaced starter Jameis Winston after he was lost for the season with a knee injury because of a horse collar tackle by Tampa Bay linebacker Devin White, who was fined for the play. Seimian completed 16 of 29 for 159 yards with one touchdown in that game. He has not thrown an interception. Taysom Hill was 2 of 2 for 33 yards and rushed once for four yards against Atlanta in his first game after missing two with a concussion.
“Overall, he played well. We missed some (rush) pickups. He had a few throws in there that were not primary receivers and played with poise, brought us back,” Payton said Sunday of Siemian.
“Trevor Siemian is great, very composed, in control of everything,” offensive tackle Terron Armstead said. “In the pocket, he was great, good decisions, everything. I’m a huge fan.”
Siemian says he will get better as will the team.
“We’ve got a really good team,” he said. “I don’t think there is anything we can’t do. Everyone in the locker room realizes that, but the things we didn’t do well today, we have to get fixed. I’m anxious to get out and play. I wish it was tomorrow or the next day, but we’ve got to get it fixed. And I think we will get it right.”