With the NFC South and home field advantage for the first round of the playoffs still at stake, the Falcons came in to this game with plenty to play for. That's true even when you consider that they had locked up a playoff spot by Monday morning
What followed, of course, was a display that was equal parts offensive malarkey, defensive ineptitude and some of the worst officiating you'll ever see. The Saints did their part by playing a smooth, quality game in all three phases, and the Falcons were more or less done in the third quarter. They still fought, bless their hearts, but ultimately the giant lead the Saints opened up in the third doomed our beloved birds.
I don't even want to talk about the Drew Brees thing, but I will briefly later. It happened. If the Falcons get a chance at revenge, I hope they seize it.
On one hand, this game isn't a killer. The Falcons are still in the playoffs and may well get another crack at the Saints, though it will again be in the Super Dome. No matter what, they're alive for the post-season, and if they're willing to learn from their mistakes, this was a hell of a teachable game. Especially for the defense, which played its worst game in many moons.
On the other hand, this is a terrible, horrible, no-good loss. The Falcons put together six fantastic quarters in a row against the Panthers and Jaguars, but those were two below-average teams, at least in 2011. The Saints are a legitimate contender for the NFC title this season, so we knew this would be tough. To see the Falcons struggle so mightily to even stay within three scores of the Saints makes me awfully worried about their post-season fortunes. Can't really help that.
At this point, all we can do is mope for 24 hours and get back on the horse. The Falcons are playing against arguably the worst team in the NFL right now this weekend and still have a shot at the #5 seed. It's a great opportunity to get things sorted out and get a little momentum going for the playoffs. They're getting a chance only eleven other teams do each year, and we should at least be thankful for that.
If you can stand to sift through the flaming wreckage, I've got the individual breakdowns after the jump. Join me there.
- Matt Ryan played a great, ballsy game last night. Helming an offense crippled by penalties and poor offensive line play, Ryan still managed to throw for more than 300 yards and avoid turnovers. He even gutted out a tough conversion on a quarterback sneak late in the game. In fact, his 373 yards were a career high.
Lost in this roller coaster season is just how good Ryan's been since the first six games of the season, when he struggled mightily. With a halfway decent game against the Buccaneers, he should break just about every milestone he's set in his young career. You can't blame Ice for this one, though the missed passes on those two fourth downs really hurt my soul a little.
Michael Turner couldn't get it going on the ground at all, but he was effective as a pass catcher and gamely plowed into the pile.
Julio Jones will get some deserved crap for his costly fumble in the fourth quarter, which broke the game open for the Saints and ended any chance of a Falcons comeback. I can't really defend it, except to say that rookies make mistakes and Jones is, for all his enormous talent, a rookie.
Aside from that one play, Jones was once again the best offensive player not named Ryan or Brees. He racked up seven catches for 123 yards and a touchdown, and the Saints were routinely stymied in their attempts to slow him down. What a shimmering, shiny future this kid has.
- Roddy White was a superb target once more. He reeled in 11 catches for 127 yards, regularly getting open on a lackluster Saints secondary and looking for extra yardage. After a rough start to the season, he's come on and will be a huge X factor in whatever playoff matchup the Falcons wind up with.
- Tony Gonzalez just makes clutch catches over the middle. Yawwwwwn.
- The offensive line didn't allow a sack. Later, you'll find out why this is a backhanded compliment.
- Matt Bryant is so automatic that he can't even be owned in 35 states.
- Matt Bosher continues to become an all-world punter. His three punts went for an average of 50 yards, and he boomed almost every kickoff.
- Vancer Walker with the sack!
- Dominique Franks with the pick, and William Moore with the (awesome) tip!
- Dunta Robinson with the pick after being maligned for the 7,000th time in the last two seasons!
- Exclamation point!
- The offensive line was embarrassingly bad for long stretches of last night. They didn't block well for Michael Turner, they didn't block well for Matt Ryan and they committed seemingly dozens of terrible penalties, though in reality I think it was only four or five.
I don't know what you can do with this unit at the moment except yell at them a lot and hope the pendulum swings toward a good week when the playoffs come. This remains my single greatest concern.
- That's followed closely by the lack of a pass rush. Vance Walker came up with a nice sack and the Falcons were in the backfield, but their inability to close the gap or account for a guy moving three inches to the left is an absolute killer. Brees operated in relative comfort throughout the night, which makes it even more remarkable that the Falcons managed a couple of picks.
The entire defense had its share of problems, but the front seven did little. Even Sean Weatherspoon was unusually, painfully quiet all game.
Unless the Falcons can start putting heat on good quarterbacks behind good lines, opposing offenses are going to put up 30+ on them in the playoffs. Simple math.
- Would it kill the Falcons to call the right play for the right situation? The Falcons were getting killed in the zone all day but did very little in the way of adjusting until the game was out of hand. Similarly, the offense squandered a crazy good passing game from Matt Ryan, coming up with only 16 points against a truly terrible defense. Both lines were bad, but the Falcons manage to seem at a loss when they don't have the lead.
Panthers game excepted, obviously.
- I said my piece about the officiating last night. I thought it was terrible, and that even the calls against the Saints were questionable. I hope I never see Jeff Triplette in an Atlanta game again.
- Didn't appreciate the Saints throwing another touchdown pass in a blowout just to get Brees his record, particularly since this wasn't Week 17. Best revenge would be a playoff win, though.
Game MVP: Ryan. Strong game from him all the way around, I thought. He was the best Falcon on the field, arguably, though obviously Julio and Roddy deserve props.
Game Theme Song: Tomorrow feels like it came come soon enough. Mood music?
One Thing To Take Away: If the Falcons play this in the playoffs, it's going to be another long off-season.
Next Week: The lovably hapless Buccaneers, led by defiant head coach Raheem Morris. Visit Bucs Nation for more.
Final Word: Playoffs.