Vying for first place in the NFC South against their archrivals, the Atlanta Falcons needed a victory on Sunday in the worst way.
Safety Jessie Bates did everything he could to make that happen.
Propelled by a scintillating 92-yard interception return from Bates to open the scoring, the Falcons bested the New Orleans Saints, 24-15, in Week 12.
"I've seen 22-motion, and it's simply film study, and all the extra meetings that we do, all our coaches with the cut-ups," Bates said after the game in a scrum. "I give all the props to them, and it's just me just checking gangster and making the play. It's a play that they ran, they've shown on film, and I took advantage of it and got my fourth one, for a touchdown, too. So very special moment for me, for sure."
As he noted, Bates now has four interceptions on the season to go with two forced fumbles and a team-high 85 tackles. He's been a boon for the Falcons, who signed him as a free agent this season.
With Derek Carr and the Saints driving in the first quarter to potentially build on a 3-0 lead, Bates swooped in from center field and, in stride, picked off a Carr pass. He raced untouched along the sideline for the pick-six -- the first for Bates since his rookie season and the longest for the Falcons since 2008, per NFL Research. It certainly didn't put the game away, but it gave Atlanta a lead it wouldn't relinquish on the day and kick-started a sensational outing for Bates.
"He got down the sideline, and then Zach Harrison making those blocks, it takes everybody, but great play," Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. "And then Jessie's play punching the ball out, and hell, that was kinda a turning point in the game."
The former Cincinnati Bengals standout posted a game-high 12 tackles, flying all over the field as he also registered a key forced fumble, a pass breakup, a pair of QB pressures and was targeted just once in coverage, per Next Gen Stats, allowing a catch for 1 yard.
"Just coming off that bye week, I think everybody had to come to life, and just reset with this bye week," said Bates of the team needing to get a win Sunday.
It can't be overstated how pivotal a win it was for the Falcons, who hadn't won a game since Oct. 22 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Since then, Atlanta lost three straight with a bye week ahead of Sunday's game.
In the blink of a 92-yard return, Atlanta's back in the win column and on top of the NFC South standings.
Said Smith: "It's just one game, but we needed that win in the worst way."