The Falcons’ standout middle linebacker keeps putting up impressive numbers against his hometown team, and he made the play of the game in a 20-17 win Thursday night over the Saints.
Jones was playing man coverage in the closing minutes on tight end Josh Hill when he leaped high in the end zone, intercepted Drew Brees’ pass with both hands and closed his eyes as he began falling backward for a big thud against the turf.
“Once I realized I had it, I knew it was going to be a long way down,” Jones said with a smile. “I felt my feet in the air and I just wanted to hold onto it. I wanted to get up with the ball. I didn’t want to see myself fall. I really didn’t.”
For Jones, it was just another great game against the Saints.
Jones, who grew up in New Orleans and starred at LSU, has been on the other side of the fence since the Falcons drafted him in the second round last year. In three career games against the Saints — all victories — he has 20 solo tackles, 28 stops overall, five pass breakups and two picks.
In his first game against New Orleans last year, he returned an interception 90 yards at the Superdome.
His pick Thursday sealed a big win for the Falcons (8-5) and kept the Saints (9-4) from holding a tighter grip on the NFC South lead.
“We just have to keep stacking ’em, coming out and playing with that fire,” Jones said. “No telling what might happen.”
NO CHOKE TONIGHT
Saints coach Sean Payton appeared to taunt Devonta Freeman with a choking gesture, holding his hand at his neck and yelling, “Choke!” after the Falcons running back was stopped for no gain at the New Orleans sideline early in the fourth quarter.
Payton said after the game that he didn’t remember doing it. Freeman, who scored the game’s first touchdown earlier in the game, had no trouble recalling it.
“I saw it,” Freeman said. “That man doesn’t know nothing about choking. He ain’t from where I’m from. He’s a good competitor so the competing probably came out, but you don’t let that bother you. He doesn’t know nothing about choking.”
The Falcons know a little something about it. They blew a 28-3 lead to lose the Super Bowl last season.
Payton’s apparent taunt didn’t slow them Thursday, though. They kept the drive going three more plays before quarterback Matt Ryan hooked up with Mohamed Sanu for an 8-yard touchdown.
Payton has lost three straight to the Falcons for the first time since taking charge of the Saints in 2006.
Ryan looked nothing like last year’s MVP, throwing three interceptions in a span of nine plays and making some uncharacteristically bad decisions with the football.
At least Ryan got the offense back to scoring touchdowns. They went without a TD in last week’s loss to Minnesota, marking the first time that didn’t happen since they lost 38-0 at Carolina in 2015. But the pass he underthrew to Julio Jones in the end zone early in the third quarter was one he’d like to forget.
The only thing good about it was New Orleans had to punt five plays later.
“On the third one in the end zone, you want to give Julio opportunities, and I didn’t throw the ball nearly high enough where it needed to be,” Ryan said.
Ryan wasn’t alone. Brees was disappointed in himself for the game-ending pick.
“Yeah, I shouldn’t have thrown it,” Brees said. “They made a nice play. It wasn’t worth the risk right there, especially when you know that you have points. It’s not like you have to have a touchdown to tie. We could have kicked the field goal since we had points. I’m just disappointed in the result there. I should not have taken that chance.”
The Saints have a long list of injuries and will need the next eight days to heal up.
They had five players leave the game and not return. The biggest loss was dual-threat running back Alvin Kamara, who was lost to a concussion in the first quarter. The offense also lost left guard Senio Kelemete, who was filling in for starter Andrus Peat, with a concussion.
Three starters on defense — linebacker A.J. Klein (groin), right end Trey Hendrickson (ankle) and strong safety Kenny Vaccaro (groin) — left the game in severe pain.
On the last drive, running back Mark Ingram, receiver Michael Thomas and receiver Ted Ginn Jr. each absorbed hard hits. Ingram and Thomas came back in.
Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant missed last week’s game with a concussion, but he made an immediate impact on the opening drive, batting down what would’ve been a touchdown pass to Michael Thomas in the end zone.