Most of us came into last night with low expectations. The Saints are 8-2, the Falcons are 2-8 and the season turned truly ugly about a month ago. That's why last night was such a pleasant surprise...initially.
The Falcons fought last night. If you asked to see some competitive fire and protecting of Matt Ryan, you got it when Jeremy Trueblood slugged Akiem Hicks. If you were looking for offensive aptitude, you got it as Matt Ryan found Darius Johnson over and over while Steven Jackson ran effectively. This being a 2013 Falcons game, naturally, things went wrong.
The pass protection broke down in spectacular fashion. The offense had troubles. The defense had troubles. Mike Smith certainly had troubles. Basically, everything went awry again. Again! Again. Even the last play of the game, with its botched laterals and stony Arthur Blank stare, was hellish.
As per usual, though, this Falcons-Saints game was awfully close. The Saints may well have been worn down from just playing a rough game and traveling on the road, but the Falcons gave 'em hell despite mistakes. It was the most watchable game in a while, so I'm mildly grateful for that. Seeing genuine improvement against a quality opponent matters to me this year.
Ultimately, with the season where it is, what we want to see is growth and quality play on the way to draft picks. We wanted a win over the Saints. We got a sample. It's not enough, and in terms of things to look forward to, 2014 is truly all that's left. Watch 'em the rest of the way, root hard but know that it's all about next year.
Breakdowns below. Fairly short again, because who wants to read 2,000 words right now?
- Matt Ryan returned to form a bit. He looked much more confident in the pocket and he abused Corey White throughout the first half, making crisp throws. It was much, much better than he's looked in a month. There were still a couple of poor throws (under duress, mostly), but it was progress. If DJ becomes a reliable option, that goes a long way.
Even when he has time, he's still locking in on his receivers at times. I don't think he's going to work out all the kinks in one week.
- Darius Johnson is making gains by the week. He needs to run crisper routes and he's got a way to go in general before he's a complete receiver, but DJ's been nothing but impressive as a rookie UDFA receiver. Drawing that pass interference was a gosh darn veteran move. I'm hopeful we've found the Falcons' long-term slot receiver.
Unfortunately, he also had a costly drop and a very costly fumble. You can't expect too much more out of a UDFA. Mistakes are how you learn, but I wish it hadn't happened in this game.
- Jeremy Trueblood got revenge on Akiem Hicks for the penalty I'm going to reference below...but it was a 15 yard penalty. It's nice to stick up for your guy, and I give Trueblood kudos for that, but it was costly. "Guts" on the field too often translate to these kinds of penalties.
- Desmond Trufant left the game with an injury. Then he came back, flashing those nice coverage skills and contributing to a huge stop on third down with the Saints threatening to score. He'll have to improve his tackling a bit, but Trufant is already a terrific cornerback.
- The opening drive of this game was a thing of beauty. The Falcons have made hay out of opening drives in the past, so it was like a return to form atop a shining unicorn. I will treasure it always.
- There are ten days left until the next game, so that's plenty of time for me to share recipes and write poetry. You guys will love it.
- Ryan's protection repeatedly broke down against a tough Saints front seven. Ryan got sacked on consecutive plays on the first drive of the third quarter, and generally was under consistent pressure. The right guard "battle" continued, with Garrett Reynolds hitting the bench and Peter Konz coming back in.
Not gonna sugarcoat it: They were awful. They were putrid. They were horrible. Whether it's by free agency or the draft, the line has to be drastically improved for the Falcons to contend in 2014.
- Desmond Trufant may have had a pick...but William Moore virtually knocked him out. That play could have turned the Saints' second drive around and given the Falcons the chance to go up by two scores. That was a play that fits well with the rest of the season, wasn't it?
Moore was generally lousy in this one. He got burnt to a crisp after guessing wrong on the route Jimmy Graham was running in the second quarter, leading to a 44 yard touchdown and a 14-10 Saints lead. Thomas DeCoud gets hammered on the regular for his play, but Moore was worse last night.
- The refs didn't screw the Falcons through this game. Far from it. But the missed penalty on Akiem Hicks in the second quarter for his hit on Matt Ryan proved costly, as the Falcons had to settle for a field goal. Hicks will probably get nailed with a fine, but that doesn't do the Falcons much good. Considering the controversy over the Drew Brees call a week before, it's amazing they missed another one.
- Once more, the Falcons shot themselves in the foot. They're now -12 in turnovers for the year, Trueblood's penalty hurt and they just plain missed a couple of plays. Even when they play well enough to win in general, they take themselves right out of the game with those mistakes. It's crushing to watch.
- If you wanted to make a case for Mike Smith being scared—and hoo boy, do people want to make that case—you'd point to this game. The Falcons had all their timeouts and a long field goal for Bryant. Going for it there may well have failed, but it was the aggressive move against the Saints.
Bryant missed the field goal, which was fairly rare. We all got violently angry. I'm too tired to care whether it was the right move or not. Given how close the team was, given how excited we were to see this team playing well, it felt like the wrong move to any.
Game MVP: Matt Bryant, I guess? He scored most of the team's points.
Game Theme Song: Another close loss to the Saints? Well, we gotta keep going.
One Thing To Take Away: The Falcons are capable of playing quality games, and then blowing them. This is not a surprise, but it remains sad.
Final Word: Notagain.