If you had a dictionary that defined such things, I'm pretty sure you could look up "tough loss" and finds Sean Payton's smirk next to it.
This had all the hallmarks of heartbreak. A team at home against a hated divisional rival, playoff implications abounding and an inexplicable implosion that makes fans grind their teeth into a fine powder. And you know what? That sucks. I'm not going to drench it in a glaze made of fairy giggles and unicorn joy.
Let's take a look at the big picture here. The Falcons are still playoff bound. They would need to lose to the Carolina Panthers, the worst team in the NFL in 2010, in order to give up home field advantage. The Saints are playing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team with a playoff berth at stake and a healthy hatred of our rivals from New Orleans. Is it even remotely likely the Falcons lose to the Panthers? I could point to Murphy's Law and chaos theory, but c'mon.
The Falcons are going to beat the Panthers.
With that in mind, this loss is little more than terrifyingly ugly roadblock on Success Street, which itself runs into the intersection of Playoff Parkway. The Falcons are still headed to the post-season and will likely get another shot at the Saints. Nobody panic.
I don't want to dwell on this loss too much, so I'll keep the rundown brief. Hit the jump with me and we'll get through it.
- Matt Ryan didn't commit a turnover. He showed cojones in running when he couldn't find an open man. And on several throws, he beat pressure and found an open man, including the Roddy White touchdown that was turned into a one-yard out on a little Saints chopsocky. He wasn't brilliant, but at least he limited his mistakes. I would definitely like to see better accuracy in the weeks ahead, but the blame for this loss is not on his shoulders.
- The defense was brilliant all night long. The Saints have a high-octane passing game, and the Falcons disrupted it through the magic of constant blitzing and quality coverage. Considering the awful situations the offense kept putting them in, I came away thinking they can stop most teams in the league for four quarters. Very impressive.
Chauncey Davis would've been the hero if the Falcons held on. He was in the right place at the right time, but he displayed excellent hands and a good burst of speed when he picked a Drew Brees flip pass—a pass that reeked of hubris, since Brees had been getting away with it all night when the pressure came in—and ran it back for a touchdown.
- John Abraham was also heroic. He nailed Brees once and snatched another errant pass out of the air for the Falcons' second interception. I'm getting depressed just thinking about how awesome our defense was in a losing effort. Damn you, offense!
- Brian Williams came very close to posting three or four sacks, missing by a finger's length each time. I give him a ton of credit for keeping the pressure up, and the Falcons may have found their ideal nickel blitzer at last.
- Matt Bryant hit two extra points. Isn't that...great?
- Man, where should I even start? Oh, right. Michael Turner.
Barring his one 27 yard run, where he showed the power, speed and vision that makes us all love the Burner, he was farsnagglin' useless for the entire game. His other 16 carries went for 21 yards, and it was about the most awful game I've ever seen from Turner.
The offensive line gave him no help, but he regularly went down on first contact, showed no drive in the pile and just generally looked anemic. I'm sure he was frustrated with the lack of blocking, but sometimes you've gotta take matters into your own hands. Turner didn't do jack, and that's not even mentioning his fumble at the goal line that may have been the defining moment of the entire game.
Of course, Mike Mularkey shares in the blame. It was beyond idiotic to abandon the pass and punch Turner up the middle when the blocking was suspect and Turner had shown no ability to generate power.
- The passing game was a mixed bag, at best. Ryan floated a few throws, guys were not in the right position and Michael Jenkins mixed some nice catches with drops. In fact, the entire receiving corps showed a level of dropsy not seen since the dark days of 2007 and 2008, where it happened with alarming regularity. Credit the Saints for shutting down Roddy White for much of the game.
Of course, Mike Mularkey shares in the blame. It was beyond lame to have the Falcons routinely throw dinky passes across the middle on second and third down, when they needed to pick up chunks of yardage.
- Poor Todd McClure. That fumble was awful, but I'm more than willing to forgive one mistake in an illustrious career. Who knows why it happened?
Of course, Mike Mularkey shares in the blame. Okay, he doesn't. I just wanted to include him in here. I really hated his gameplan for this one, but I do think the Saints planned well for what the Falcons were trying to accomplish on offense.
- Eric Weems tried too hard to make something happen and ended up not really being a factor on returns. Too bad.
Game MVP: I award it to Chauncey Davis and John Abraham. It certainly wasn't going to be anyone from the offense.
Game Theme Song: Relax?
One Thing To Take Away: The Falcons are neither invincible nor perfect. Now they can fix their woes.
Next Week: Technically this week, the Falcons take on the Panthers. Visit Cat Scratch Reader for more.
Final Word: Crappy.