Well, it finally happened.
Atlanta's quest for a perfect season came to an end Sunday, vanishing at the hands of their bitter rival from the Big Easy. After enjoying some dramatic wins earlier in the year, the Falcons were unable to string together one of their patented fourth quarter comebacks against the Saints—falling just six feet short of a victory and a 9-0 record. But life, and the season, go on.
Some perspective for fans that are surely losing their minds over this game: The Falcons came into Week 10 with the best record in the NFL, and they went to bed on Sunday night in the same position, albeit with one blemish in the win/loss column. Losing to New Orleans stings, there's no doubt about it, but there's no reason for Atlanta to doubt its status as one of the league's elite. At the very least, we can take solace in the fact that this team is still a Super Bowl contender, and New Orleans definitely isn't. So take that, Curtis Lofton.
Injured Weatherspoon, Among Others, Sorely Missed
While there's no room for excuses in the NFL, the Falcons' injuries played a major factor in Sunday's outcome, and one can't help but wonder what the end result would've been had a few more starters been in the game. No loss was more significant than Sean Weatherspoon, who would've been a huge boost to a struggling defensive unit. Jimmy Graham tore up Atlanta's D all day long, and while he would've likely had a strong showing regardless of Weatherspoon's status, the star tight end probably wouldn't have lit the Falcons up for two touchdowns and 146 yards.
That said, the injury discussion goes both ways: the Saints were without Darren Sproles and several other key players, and the argument can be made that the two teams were roughly even on the health front.
Uncharacteristic Penalties Help Kill Falcons Chances
The Falcons were the least penalized team in the NFL heading into Sunday's game, but they drew several costly fouls against the Saints that might have made the difference in the end. This includes a brutal holding penalty with less than a minute left and one that helped kill Atlanta's second drive of the game. From Coach Smith:
We want to play penalty free football on special teams. We had one early. We had one in the third quarter and we had one there on the last punt. In terms of getting the ball in good field position (that hurts). We had a chance and we had a 10 yard penalty which basically knocked the ball much farther back from where we'd like to start with no timeouts on that last drive.
Ryan's Record Breaking Day Not Enough
Going up against the worst pass defense in the NFL, Matt Ryan broke his career high in passing yards with 411, adding three touchdowns in the process. However, this loss marks the first time the Falcons have lost when Ryan throws three or more TDs.
Gonzalez: The Confidence Hasn't Changed
Tony Gonzalez did drop a crucial pass on fourth down on the Falcons' final drive, but he had himself a hell of a game: scoring two touchdowns—the 100th and 101st of his career—and gaining 122 receiving yards, which led Atlanta on Sunday. In typical Tony Gonzalez fashion, he was very blunt in his post-game interview:
“This is football. No one’s gonna go around crying. No one’s gonna go around panicking or anything like that,” Gonzalez said in the locker room after the game. “We’re a good football team. The confidence hasn’t changed. Our scheme isn’t going to change. There is no magic answer I’m going to give you for why we lost or why they won. This is a typical football game — hard-fought, rivalry game. They came out on top of us today.”
Running Game Struggles Again
The Falcons running game continued to struggle against the Saints, as Michael Turner racked up just 15 yards on 13 carries. Having the Turner of old would've been especially helpful on the second to last drive, when the Falcons were stymied just feet from the end zone. Sure makes one miss TJ Duckett and what he was able to do in short yardage situations once upon a time. From Pat Yasinskas:
Atlanta's running game was horrible. A week after Michael Turner rushed for 100 yards, he was limited to 15 yards on 13 carries by what had been one of the worst statistical defenses in history. Turner also lost a yard on a carry from the New Orleans 1-yard line late in the game. I know Turner has lost a step, but he still has enough power to gain a yard. I'm thinking the fact he couldn't is as much of an indictment of the Atlanta offensive line as it is of Turner.