NFL players have always been open about their disdain for Thursday night football games.

Complaints surrounding health, inadequate time to physically recover from the previous game, the disadvantage for the road team and resulting sloppy football are the more common criticisms.

Each was on display tonight in Atlanta as the Saints lost to the rival Falcons 20-17, in a game full of the regular complaints about Thursday games.

"I thought we fought hard," said New Orleans head coach Sean Payton. "I thought we fought a lot of things outside of football."

A ton of key Saints players were hurt during the game, something Payton intimated was partly the result of a short week.

Star running back Alvin Kamara was knocked out with a concussion on the first drive, and starting guard Senio Kelemete left with a concussion in the first quarter.

A number of other players suffered muscular injuries that were the result of the lack of rest. Starting linebacker A.J. Klein (groin), starting strong safety Kenny Vaccaro (groin), defensive end Trey Hendrickson (foot), and defensive tackle David Onyemata (leg) all left the game with injuries and didn't return.

Other starters such as running back Mark Ingram, and running backs Michael Thomas and Tedd Ginn Jr. each left the game for a short stretch in the second half with injuries, but returned.

The Saints were also on the wrong side of a plethora of penalties, some of which were, at best, questionable.

On the final play of the first half, the Saints were penalized after making a 47 yard field goal for illegal formation when back up guard Josh LeRibeus (who was replacing Kelemete) didn't line up on the line of scrimmage. The field goal was wiped off the board, and time in the first half had expired.

"They felt like the player wasn't far enough up on the line. Usually you get a warning with that, especially when you have a backup in," said Payton.

When pressed if it was normal protocol by officials to issue a warning before giving a penalty in that specific situation, Payton responded, "Absolutely."

Atlanta took a 20-17 lead with 3:49 left in regulation.

New Orleans drove into the red zone, but Drew Brees threw a costly interception in the end zone with 1:25 left.

Atlanta needed one first down to end the game, as the Saints still had two timeouts. The Falcons fumbled on the second play of the drive, but recovered, setting up a third down, but the Saints were flagged for unsportmanlike conduct after Payton stepped a few yards onto the field.

"I called a timeout, then he asked me again, and I said 'I already called a timeout'," explained Payton. "I probably said it with a little more oomph or bigger than I was supposed to, but I had had enough. I've got to be smarter than that."

Atlanta finished the game with 26 first downs, but 9 of them came as a result of New Orleans penalties. It's the most first down a team has gotten from a penalty in a single game in over 20 years.

One of those came on the Falcons first touchdown scoring drive. The Saints defense held Atlanta near midfield on 3rd and 11, but Sheldon Rankins was called for a roughing the passer penalty. Replay showed the call was egregious.

"I've never been a part of a game like that," said Payton. "Just, the flags that were thrown..."

With the loss, the Saints fall to 9-4, while the Falcons improve to 8-5. If Atlanta wins out, they win the NFC South.

New Orleans hosts Atlanta on Christmas Eve.

A week from Sunday, the Saints host the New York Jets. Kickoff is set for noon.


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