Last year's game against the Saints in the Georgia Dome was a heartbreaker, and Falcons fans cringed at the resounding chants of "Who dat?" that echoed through the Dome. Last night, the Saints fans in attendance never really got going. The Falcons silenced them early with an extremely efficient drive resulting in a touchdown, and the rest of the game pretty much answered Saints fans' rhetorical question.
Atlanta's offense never did replicate the purpose and effectiveness they showed on that first drive. The Falcons were coming off of a short week after a physical game in Tampa Bay, and facing a division opponent that is overly familiar with their tendencies. Their third down conversion rate was abysmal, converting just one of 11 third downs. Matt Ryan had just 165 yards passing. They could not sustain offensive drives, leaving the defense on the field, and the ball in Drew Brees' hands, far too long. Michael Turner fumbled in the red zone (on a play that should have been whistled dead long before the fumble as forward progress was stopped, but I digress.)
The offense simply looked anemic, yet still managed to do enough, with considerable help from Atlanta's defense, to put away one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. It is difficult to deny the potential of a team that can pull off a win under these circumstances.
Matt Bosher and Matt Bryant were solid against the Saints. Bosher averaged an excellent 53.2 yards per punt, and Bryant was back to form, completing a 55 yard field goal for a little bit of breathing room in the fourth quarter.
Atlanta's defense was dominant throughout the game, ending Drew Brees' historic streak of 54 consecutive games with a passing touchdown. The pressure on Brees was consistent, with one sack by John Abraham, and three hits and 14 hurries. Asante Samuel, dealing with a shoulder injury, only played three snaps, and the "next man up" philosophy was definitely at work, with Chris Owens and Robert McClain performing admirably in coverage. Oh, and Drew Brees was intercepted a total of five times, with Jonathan Babineaux, Sean Weatherspoon, Thomas DeCoud all getting in on the action, and William Moore was so ready that he picked off Brees twice. Corey Peters tipped a pass to himself on what should have been a sixth interception, but the play was negated by an offsides penalty. Oh well, there's no reason to be greedy.
The Saints have been a consistent stumbling block for the Mike Smith-era Falcons. A win over the Saints confirms that history does not necessarily have to repeat itself for the 2012 Falcons. Regardless of New Orleans' record, this was a big game for a Falcons team that is constantly labeled as unable to win the big game. This was a game against a team with a losing record that thought so little of the Falcons abilities and success despite their own shortcomings, Drew Brees persisted in the foolish proclamation that the Saints own the division and the Falcons know it. With the Falcons flying high at 11-1, clearly Brees is mistaken.