The Falcons sprang out to an early 17-0 lead, forced two Drew Brees turnovers and still managed to get it within four points during an awful run in the second and third quarters. They did this by gassing their defense thanks to the most anemic offensive effort I've seen against such a mediocre defense. Matt Ryan, the pass blocking, the receivers...they were all varying degrees of pitiful after the first half.
It didn't wind up mattering. It was a trademark Falcons-Saints game, full of crazy momentum swings and turnovers, but in the end the Falcons put together their finest defensive effort of the year and held on in part due to a complete meltdown of a game from Drew Brees. Considering how angry I was at points during this game—we'll have time to talk about that later, but I'm celebrating too hard right now—having this team walk off the field with a 10 point win was nothing short of phenomenal.
There have been very few games in which the Falcons have put it together on both sides of the ball. Combine the passing offense of the first Saints game with the defense of this game and you have a terrifying team, and I still believe they're going to get there.
This sets the Falcons up to win the division if the Buccaneers stumble on Sunday. The week and a half between now and the next game gives the banged-up birds time to recuperate. It virtually knocks the Saints out of playoff contention. And while there are plenty of worry spots to poke at and plenty of reasons for analysts to continue to be skeptical, it was without a doubt the year's best win. It will nourish me for weeks.
Over to the individual performances.
Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers deserve credit for that incredible first drive, if nothing else. They combined to go over 100 yards last night on relatively few carries, blowing the doors off the Saints' defense and giving the Falcons an early lead that turned out to be incredibly important.
- The receivers may have scuffled throughout the game, but Tony Gonzalez was as solid as ever. He reeled in a touchdown early and served as Matt Ryan's most reliable target on a day where reliable targets were hard to come by.
- Jason Snelling did a great job as a receiver, as well. He gets open surprisingly well for a big running back.
- Matt Bosher averaged 53.2 yards on six punts. 53.2 yards. Those are aircraft cannon numbers.
- Matt Bryant returned to his clutch roots, and it's hard to argue with him as MVP after he drilled a 55 yard field goal with the Falcons up seven late in the fourth quarter. It was hard to hear the crowd over the sound of his massive iron balls clanging together.
- The defense was stellar throughout this one, especially given the competition. It's even better when you consider that the front seven got quality pressure throughout the game. John Abraham finished with a sack and a couple of hurries, and Kroy Biermann's pressure caused the fifth interception that was called back.
- The coverage was incredible. It had to be to force Brees into four picks and make him miss throws all game long. Particularly stellar games from Chris Owens and Robert McClain on that front. I'm proud of all of them, but those two were forced into a tough situation and responded admirably.
- Then there were the interceptions. William Moore and Thomas DeCoud returned to their intercepting ways, Sean Weatherspoon nabbed one and Kroy Biermann popped Drew Brees and forced my favorite pick of the year, a weak little duckling that ended up in the hands of Jonathan Babineaux. They would have had a fifth if John Abraham didn't jump offsides, too.
- The Saints produced plenty of yards...but that just gave Moore more chances. C4 snagged two last night—including one he crossed the entire football field to get to—and put up 11 tackles. MVP! MVP!
- Give Mike Nolan quite a bit of credit. He gameplanned this one perfectly, asking his guys to be aggressive and trusting them to make big plays. They did it.
- A special thanks to Drew Brees, who played his worst game in a Saints uniform. Whether it was the pass rush or just a sloppy game, he bounced throws, forced throws and generally made life much easier for the Falcons. Pundits will argue that New Orleans beat themselves last night, and while there's something to that, it's really more Brees who did that.
- Matt Ryan had a poor game. He got twitchy in the pocket when the Saints rushed up the middle, which marks the third straight game where teams have been able to apply pressure on McClure, Blalock and Konz and force bad throws. He's lucky at least two weren't picked, and it's fair to wonder exactly what's going on with him after his brilliant start to the season.
Thankfully, he avoided turnovers and was workmanlike enough to pull out the win, but getting Ryan right is a focal point going forward.
- The offensive line did a putrid job of pass protection again, primarily in the middle. The fact that opposing teams have figured out how to attack this line effectively and put real pressure on Ryan should be a huge wakeup call for Pat Hill and these players.
- If the Falcons could stop with ill-timed penalties and turnovers, that would be really swell. Okay? Okay.
- I have no further complaints. They did just beat the Saints, after all.
Game MVP: So many deserving choices. You could go with Chris Owens, Matt Bryant, or a half-dozen others, but I'll choose William Moore. He played a great game.
Game Theme Song: Choose the happiest thing you can think of. Then jam a syringe full of liquid joy into your arms, slap on headphones made of unicorn horn and listen to that baby at 11.
One Thing To Take Away: I dunno, five picks?
Final Word: Justawesome.