How do you distill a game like this?
The Falcons played an error-ridden, sloppy game of football for almost four full quarters. They made mistakes on offense, blunders on defense and screw-ups on special teams. The coaching staff called an extraordinarily bad game on offense, in particular.
Yet the Falcons put it all together near the end of the game, coming up huge when they were down by 10 in the fourth quarter. If not for some poor throws by Matt Ryan, they might have won it outright. Instead, they went to overtime, where the entire game came down to a 4th and 1 around the 30 yard-line.
Unfortunately, that play may be the distillation of the game. Perhaps it is the very ether of the season. The Falcons fought hard, overcame mistakes and tried to do something gutsy. They were undone once more by a terrible playcall--Turner's first and only carry of overtime, one that required him to charge through a prepared defensive line from almost five yards back--and a lack of great execution. A few short plays later, it was 26-23 Saints, and we were all left looking for answers, again.
At this point, sitting at 5-4, all we can do is use ifs about this Falcons team. If they put it all together, they'd be unstoppable. If they can build on that late game momentum and crush some easy opponents in the weeks ahead, they can make the playoffs. If they can just stop making so many mistakes, they will be a dominant football team. And so on. We do this because it's impossible to admit to ourselves that this team might spend the rest of the season stumbling. We also do it because when the Falcons play well, they play exceptionally well.
We don't know what lies ahead. We can take some solace in the fact that the Falcons played a very tough Saints team to the hilt, and it came after two good performances in a row. I'm not ready to put flowers on this team's grave just yet, even if I'm incredibly depressed at the moment. Hope springs eternal.
It's going to take a long time to process this one. After the jump, I'll do my best to sift through it all.
- Matt Ryan is a Jekyll and Hyde quarterback. When he's on, he zips lasers in to his receivers. He makes smart reads and knows just where to place a ball. He managed to be that guy on roughly 25-30 of his passes today, or more than half. I'm going to give props to the Jekyll who threw two touchdowns and 351 yards yesterday, and who made some great decisions when the calls were left in his hands.
- Michael Turner deserves all the praise you can throw at him. It wasn't his fault that the Falcons went away from him late in the game, or that they didn't use him before an impossible situation on the 4th and 1. With 22 carries for 96 yards, he averaged more than four yards a carry was a consistent threat.
I'm not saying the guy was perfect. I am saying the Falcons wouldn't have fared as well as they did without him.
- Jacquizz Rodgers is fast becoming a big part of this offense. He had seven carries on Sunday for 30 yardss and showed good burst, surprising power and quality vision. Rodgers has a bright future with the Falcons.
- Harry Douglas made a mistake. He cut back after he already had the first down, something that nearly cost the Falcons dearly. Let's just shove that out of the way.
In a game where the Falcons desperately needed someone to step up thanks to Roddy White's struggles and Julio Jones' injury, Douglas came through. He wound up with eight catches for 133 yards, regularly getting open in the middle of the field and showing a willingness to take hits. It was easily the best game of his young career.
If Jones can't stay on the field and White doesn't improve, Douglas should become the team's go-to guy. He's capable.
- Jason Snelling only did one good thing this game, but it was an amazingly great thing.
His touchdown catch was easily the play of the game, and perhaps one of the plays of the season. Catching the ball on a short route, Snelling showed incredible power and leg drive, blowing through eight Saints defenders (yes, EIGHT!) on his way to the end zone. You'll be hearing a lot more about this later this week, of course.
- Tony Gonzalez was Mr. Reliability again. He wound up with six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. He would've had more catches and perhaps even more touchdowns if Ryan hadn't missed him so badly in the red zone.
- Mike Cox blocked well and made a heroic effort at a first down on his lone catch of the game. We can argue all day about whether he should have gotten it or not, but he deserves to be singled out for a superlative try.
- The game might have been very different if Matt Bryant hadn't missed a short field goal. I'll give you that. I find it hard to single him out because of his reliability otherwise, and he still hit three tries today. Slap on the wrist?
- Matt Bosher continues to make huge improvements. He had a great tackle on his first kickoff to Darren Sproles and averaged 45.4 yards per punt today. No one has come farther since the beginning of the season than Atlanta's new favorite punter.
- I thought both Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon played well today. Faced with the impossible task of holding back Jimmy Graham, they managed to get in front of him or at least tackle him quickly. Compared to how well Graham did against the defensive backs, this was miraculous.
- Brent Grimes was sharp in coverage, as usual. His athleticism and great instincts allowed him to keep up with some very talented Saints receivers and shut them down.
- The defense as a whole didn't manage any turnovers and didn't get any sacks, but I thought they played well today outside of some boneheaded mistakes. Brian Van Gorder sought to limit the damage from Drew Brees and managed to hold him back to some degree, and they turned in their usual dominant performance against the run.
- I'm going to give props to the fans. There was a lot of angst out there, yes, but I didn't really see anybody quit on this team, even during the darkest parts of the game. I feel like the fanbase has come a long way since the early 2000's.
- I can't be the only one worried about Matt Ryan's arm. He nearly threw picks on three consecutive passes to Tony Gonzalez in the fourth quarter, and some of his deep balls were off by several yards. One shot into the end zone missed by so much that even the Saints defenders could only stand and let it go.
I think Ryan is a very good quarterback who could be a great one, but his accuracy is an ongoing concern.
- Roddy White is the goat of the game. There's been a lot of chatter about White being off this year, chatter I didn't spend a lot of time on. After all, if interceptions vary greatly year to year, why couldn't drops?
But after today, White's got a lot of improvement he needs to be striving for. I can't deny that. His terrible drop wound up as a pick. He made mistakes in the form of penalties--even if one was a mistake only the refs could see--and he had trouble getting open and trouble making catches all day. There's something very, very wrong here.
It's painful for me to write this, because White has become such a terrific weapon after a rough start to his career. Until he improves, though, it's time to get Jones and Douglas more involved in the offense at his expense. He's just making too many mistakes right now, and it's costing the offense.
- The pass rush was largely anemic today. Drew Brees has excellent instincts and the Saints' line is pretty solid, but to come out of this one with no sacks and hardly any pressure? Unacceptable.
- The two plays where Jimmy Graham was left wide open speaks to the problems with BVG's particular brand of zone. The fact that you have two or three guys who all are unsure of who they were supposed to be covering on the same play tells me something is very, very wrong with the team's communication.
- The officiating was horrible. I'm sure there were plays the Saints fans felt screwed by, but the crew today called at least two phantom penalties on the Falcons and probably screwed up Mike Cox's desperate first down lunge. I rarely take aim at the refs, but damn.
The coaching staff made countless mistakes today.
The 4th and 1 call wasn't necessarily the wrong one, in terms of going for it. The problem was that the actual play call was so stupid. When you have a choice between a QB sneak that has a quarterback basically taking three steps forward and stretching out versus getting a running back going from five yards back, you would generally take the QB sneak. Heck, even trying to catch them off balance with a passing play would have made more sense than plunging Turner when the defense knew it was coming.
It was like that all game. The Falcons took strikes when they shouldn't have, went conservative when they didn't need to and abandoned the run in overtime for no good reason. You can pin a lot of fault on Mike Smith, Mike Mularkey and Brian Van Gorder for the mistakes their units made today.
Game Theme Song: Junk of the Heart by The Kooks. Not only is it stuck in my head, but I would desperately like us all to be happy.