Saints ride Thomas' clutch catches to crucial win vs. Jets
By BRETT MARTEL
NEW ORLEANS (AP) An official briefly followed Michael Thomas back toward the Saints' huddle, warning the receiver against continuing to toss the ball downfield to no one in particular as a way of celebrating his first-down catches.
The act was getting tiresome for those who had to retrieve the ball because Thomas kept coming through with clutch grabs to ensure New Orleans would keep the New York Jets at bay.
Thomas caught nine passes for 93 yards, including a pivotal 4-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Saints' 31-19 victory over New York on Sunday. In the process, Thomas reached 94 catches this season, making him just the second NFL player - along with the New York Giants' Odell Beckham - to have at least 90 receptions in each of his first two years.
"Mike is a beast, man. He's one of the best receivers in this league, by far," said running back Mark Ingram, who also credited Thomas for a key block on a 54-yard screen play. "He catches everything - making contested catches, run after the catch. He's just an animal."
While Ingram and Alvin Kamara got the Saints off to a fast start, the Jets slowed down the dynamic running back duo from the middle of the second quarter until the fourth, pulling as close as 17-13.
That's when Thomas stepped up with catches of 17, 20 and 9 yards to sustain a drive that ended with his 4-yard TD.
"They need you to be the man and they need you to make plays," said Thomas, who also set up Ingram's 1-yard TD in the first quarter by converting a fourth-and-2 on a receiver screen. "That's what I signed up for and that's I like to do."
Some other takeaways from New Orleans' victory over the reeling Jets:
STAYING ON TOP: The Saints (10-4) had to win to remain in first place in the NFC South. Odds are, they knew it, because the score of a victory by Carolina (10-4) over Green Bay kept flashing around the Superdome. But Drew Brees insisted he wasn't scoreboard watching because he didn't want any distractions from his own game.
"You have to fight human nature a lot of those times," Brees said.
Atlanta (8-5) can pull within a game by beating Tampa Bay on Monday night.
DOMECOMING: The Jets' running game featured two Louisiana natives who grew up within an hour of New Orleans. Elijah McGuire, who grew up in Houma, played college football for Louisiana-Lafayette - including in the Superdome when the Ragin' Cajuns made the New Orleans Bowl. Against the Saints, McGuire had 72 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown on four rushes and three receptions.
"I'm trying to do everything I can to help my team, but it wasn't enough," said McGuire, a rookie.
Veteran Matt Forte, who grew up in suburban New Orleans and played Tulane home games in the dome, rushed seven times for 24 yards and caught two passes for 10 yards.
ARMS UP: Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan batted down four Bryce Petty passes, giving him 11 for the season. Using a basketball analogy, Jordan has discussed his goal of getting an NFL defensive "triple-double" for the season in sacks, tackles for loss and passes defended. Now he's done it. He has 10 sacks and 14 tackles for losses. He also had a QB hit on Petty, giving him 21 of those.
QB COMPARISON: Petty, making his first start this season for the Jets, said he was eager to meet Brees. Both grew up in Texas and Petty starred at Baylor before the Jets drafted him in the fourth round in 2015. Both also wear No. 9.
As expected, Brees' numbers were superior. He was 26 of 36 passes (72.2 percent) for 285 yards and two touchdowns and one interception, which occurred when he was hit as he threw.
Petty was 19 of 39 (48.7 percent) for 179 yards with one TD and two interceptions. Jets coach Todd Bowles said Petty didn't make enough plays when New York needed them, but will start again next week.
Petty said he "felt really good, really crisp about things from a mental standpoint, not letting the nerves get the best of me. ... There's a lot to pull from it that's positive."
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Updated December 17, 2017