To be honest, I'm having a hard time keeping perspective about the win against the Saints. My heart is still racing and so many things about this game frustrated me - as they would any fan. But this article is about thinking in a level-headed way and not letting emotions or exhaustion dictate our perception of what happened. That said, I do think there are several things to take-away from the game.
First, let's get a few things out of the way. The Falcons - to the chagrin of the media talking-heads - did not win a playoff game last night. And while the media wants to convince us that regular season games do not matter, I would argue that they do. Someone ask the Eagles or Cowboys if the regular season matters. You should check in with Matthew Stafford to see if he thinks the regular season matters. Yet, when it comes to our Falcons, the regular season should be completely ignored and each win is just proof that they can't win a playoff game. Morons.
Second, it is critical to remember that both teams had a short week to prepare and both played very physical and emotionally draining games on Sunday. We were on the road against a very good Tampa team and the Saints got the hell beat out of them by a fierce 49ers team. So, it's important not to put too much weight on the performance of any particular person or group. Yes, Ryan looked bad at times, but he didn't throw an INT and delivered when needed. Brees looked both dominant and terrible and you won't see this QB throw 5 INTs very often.
So, what are some of the take aways from the game? Well, on offense, we saw a glimpse of what we really need going into the playoffs - an offense that CAN run the ball. Granted, it was against a poor defense, but this is on the heels of also running well against the best rush defense last week. Koetter showed that he can draw up running plays that will work, and the execution - particularly from fullback Mike Cox - was much better and has been improving. If anything, Michael Turner looked more fresh than he has in a long, long time and Rodgers was his normal explosive self. This is PERFECT timing for the run game to start to come together and will be critical in January.
As for the constant pressure on Ryan - I wouldn't put too much emphasis on this one game. The middle of our line has been pretty solid for the season, so this game was a bit of an anomaly. I think we can write it off on the short week and pay attention to what happens in 10 days against Carolina. That will be a more complete picture of how our line is truly playing.
On defense, this team showed something we've all been worried about: depth. With Asante Samuel out for most of the game, we had to turn to both McClain and Owens to fill in - and they did a great job. Yes, Brees racked up tons of yards, but that is to be expected when you're playing one of the most stats-heavy QBs of the last 10 years. Both McClain and Owens made big plays and played very good defense all night. Owens in particular showcased his closing speed on several occasions and any memories of the GB playoff loss should be cast under the light of his performance since that point.
Additionally, for most of the first half, this defense stifled the running game. That makes two weeks in a row. While they were far more giving in the second half, much of that can be credited to the inability of the offense to give them any kind of relief. This defense is starting to figure out how to both stop the run AND be a pest to the QB. Both Abraham and Biermann were constantly harassing Brees and forcing him into bad throws. Those 5 INTs were partly produced by the fact that Brees was constantly under pressure.
While this was not a perfect game, we're starting to see trends that are very promising going into the playoff season. Our defense is turning into a D that can limit the passing game, pressure the QB AND shutdown the run. Our offense is showing the ability to run when needed and it's possible that Turner's fresh legs may be ready for a strong playoff run. The passing game was stagnant, but this is one of the few games in a while where Ryan was NOT able to move the ball at will, so I wouldn't put too much weight on it.
Eleven and one. And improving in some key areas.
What do you guys think? Am I overstating the positives or under-emphasizing the negatives?