What we learned: Ben Watson stands out in Saints' win


Veteran tight end Ben Watson's unlikely career night helped lift the New Orleans Saints to a 31-21 upset over the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night. Here's what you need to know:

1. Saints coach Sean Payton believes Drew Brees should complete 80 percent of his pass attempts against zone defenses such as Atlanta's, CBS' Phil Simms pointed out during the broadcast. With Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford tying up opposing wideouts this season, Brees picked on the Falcons' linebackers and safeties, completing 77.0 percent of his 39 attempts. Watson routinely found open spaces down the seam and would have gone over 150 yards if not for a high red-zone throw from Brees. With 127 yards on the evening, Watson's season total now stands at 266 -- 62 more than Jimmy Graham, the three-time Pro Bowler he replaced as Brees' go-to tight end.

2. This simply wasn't the Falcons' night. Matt Ryan fumbled upon brushing his fullback's shoulder prior to an opening-drive handoff. Fill-in center James Stone lost another fumble when his shotgun snap hit his own leg. On top of those two unforced errors, rookie tailback Tevin Coleman coughed the ball up in the red zone. From the Saints' point of view, the play of the night was a punt blocked and recovered by Michael Mauti for a touchdown -- eerily reminiscent of the 2006 punt block by Steve Gleason that has been immortalized with a statue outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It was a fitting tribute to Gleason, who was on hand after being presented the George Halas award before the game.

3. Devonta Freeman was the lone bright spot for Atlanta, scoring his ninth and 10th touchdowns in six games. For comparison's sake, NFL Offensive Player of the Year DeMarco Murray rushed for 13 touchdowns in 16 games last year. Freeman's playmaking ability and physicality are obvious, but it's his decisiveness to hit the right holes that allows him to burst to and through the line of scrimmage like his hair is on fire.

The Falcons had just one 100-yard rushing performance under Mike Smith and Dirk Koetter over the past two seasons. Freeman has three in his past four games. Credit offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who has overseen an incredible turnaround on the offensive line. Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme has led to dominant ground attacks in Houston, Washington, Cleveland and now Atlanta.

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4. Outside of his game-winning, 80-yard touchdown reception in overtime of Week 4, C.J. Spiller is averaging a paltry 4.93 yards per reception and 3.4 yards per carry. Coming back from an August knee scope, he simply hasn't regained his explosive lateral agility.

5. Spiller isn't even the most disappointing skill-position player in New Orleans. Brandin Cooks was supposed to be the breakout star. Instead, he has been outplayed by undrafted Willie Snead, who signed a reserve/future contract in early January. Brees seems to have more natural trust in Snead.

6. The Falcons were the first team ever to trail in the fourth quarter of four games and still start the season 5-0. In other words, they were incredibly lucky. They are still a well-coached team with a franchise quarterback, a superstar wide receiver and a fast, physical defense, but the pass rushing has disappeared and Matt Ryan hasn't played as well as one might expect. Even if the luck starts to even out -- as Thursday's performance suggests -- they have the benefit of the NFL's easiest path to the postseason. Indianapolis and Carolina are the only teams with a winning record remaining on Atlanta's schedule. Entering the week, Football Outsiders set the Falcons' playoff odds at 93.9 percent.