The Atlanta Falcons were going to lose at some point this season. The combination of legendary skill and luck it takes to win every game against every NFL team is virtually impossible to replicate, as the New England Patriots found out recently.
You can be the most powerful man in the world and wake up one morning with the emperor's clothes and nothing to your name. You can be the best football team going and drop a game the next day.
Knowing that does not lessen the sting of the first loss. If that first loss comes against the reviled Saints, and it involves the Falcons' offense crapping the bed against the worst defense I've ever seen and a poor defensive effort against their high-octane offense, it doesn't just sting. It's like pouring ghost pepper pieces into a gaping wound and then lighting that sucker on fire.
Make no mistake: This game exposed all the fault lines we feared with the 2012 Falcons. All year long, pundits told us they weren't closing out teams and were getting by on quite a bit of luck, and we chose to ignore that. The Saints took every weakness of the Falcons team as currently constructed and exploited it.
The New Orleans offense successfully ran all over the defense en route to 21 first half points. The 31st ranked rush defense successfully bottled up Michael Turner, while the 27th ranked passing defense forced a Matt Ryan interception and stalled a few drives on the way there. The Falcons came within a score of winning, blew a goal-line stand and You could not have picked a worse time or worse way to lose the first game of the season, even if you tried.
At 8-1, the Falcons are still in the driver's seat in the NFC South. I don't want to overstate this loss, because with the reeling Arizona Cardinals up next, the Falcons have a chance to get back on track in a big way. The Falcons are still one of the best teams in the NFL, but they need to keep winning.
It's just that losing to the Saints—especially when it's the worst Saints team in the last several years—is like a slap to the most painful parts of your anatomy. The fact that the Saints and Bucs are clawing their way back into the wildcard race makes it, somehow, even worse.
The fixes we've talked about with mixed urgency all season have to happen now. There's no time like the present.
Let's get into the individual performances now.
- Matt Ryan missed on a few passes—most critically at the end of the game—but his receivers were partly to blame for that. A day where you throw for 411 yards and three touchdowns is still a good day, and Ryan kept them in the game. I could say that I wish he had been able to connect on just a few more passes, but it's wishful thinking at this point.
Given that the Saints neither respected nor expended a lot of effort stopping the run, that's a hell of a line, really.
- Jacquizz Rodgers was valuable again today. Three carries for 29 yards and four catches for 33 yards. He's not a game-breaking weapon, but he's a weapon. Still wary of his ability to run behind this line, however.
- Tony Gonzalez is a more athletic Benjamin Button. He paced the team today with 11 receptions for 122 yards and two touchdowns, consistently fighting off coverage to get the first down when Ryan needed him to. He also has 101 touchdown receptions for his career.
- Roddy White may have been partly to blame for the missed pass at the end of the game, but he had seven catches for 114 yards and is one of the NFL's best receivers regardless. He runs routes like a champ.
- Julio Jones only played a half and had four receptions for 75 yards. 'Nuff said.
- Matt Bryant, back to being automatic.
- Matt Bosher remains an excellent
- On a day where the defense didn't play particularly well, I have to give kudos to Akeem Dent. Nine total tackles on the day, and the fact that he was matched up against Saints receivers is not really his fault. He's growing into the role.
- Asante Samuel picked off Drew Brees. That does a heart good.
- Stephen Nicholas got a sack.
- Michael Turner was not the only reason the Falcons lost this game, but he was a major part of it. Going against the second worst rush defense in the NFL, Turner managed 13 yards on 15 yards and actually went backwards a yard on a third and one on the one yard line late in the fourth quarter with the Falcons needing a touchdown to go up and potentially win. Turner's has some pretty good games in 2012, but he has rarely come through when the team needs him.
If your power back can't convert a yard when you really need it and can barely average over a yard against one of the league's worst defenses, then he's of little use to your football team. The Falcons need to find another solution right damn now.
- If that solution is the offensive line, though, the Falcons are in huge trouble.
I'm a believer that you can pin the woes evenly on both, but the line certainly has a share of the blame. The old fallacy that a pass-blocking line also run blocks well for running backs has been exposed all season long, with the Falcons' line keeping Ryan upright but failing to open holes for Turner.
They'll need to block better, or improvements from Turner won't matter much.
- I don't want to lay too much blame on Dirk Koetter or Mike Nolan's feet, since they both called pretty good games overall. But in Koetter's case, you have to be able to convert on short yardage situations when the game is on the line. In Nolan's case, you have to be able to stop a ground game that's absolutely worthless most of the time from getting close to 150 yards against you. You HAVE to.
- I'd rather not spend an enormous amount of time discussing the myriad mini-failures that marked this game, but safe to say the Falcons could have played a much better football game. I don't necessarily agree with White that the Falcons gave this game away, but they certainly failed to convert on several chances and wound up losing because of it. There's considerable work to do.
Game MVP: I'll give it to Tony Gonzalez, because he's got all those records and he's fantastic.
Game Theme Song: This game felt like it.
One Thing To Take Away: The Falcons have flaws. It's time to fix them.
Next Week: The Arizona Cardinals are up next. Visit Revenge of the Birds for more.
Final Word: Losingsucks.