You may never see a game like that again in your life. Somewhere between the unbelievable highs and crushing lows of that gut-churning roller coaster of a contest was one of the great games I've had the occasion to see.
At the end of it all, the Falcons walked out of a rollicking Superdome with a win. I can't tell you how amazing it was to see Hartley miss the field goal, to see the Falcons march down the field like a victorious army and to see Matt Bryant survive a block (luckily erased by Sean Payton's poor timing) and ace the game winner. Watching Matt Ryan yelling on the sidelines, I was struck by how fiercely the Falcons wanted this game. The team that folded in high pressure situations is dying, and I hope they rest peacefully.
All of which is a fancy way of saying that this game kicked ass. The Falcons walk out of it a 2-1 team, good enough for a nominal lead in the NFC South, and with confidence and talent oozing out of their pores. In my two decades following this team, I've rarely had such confidence in their ability to keep the good times rolling. The Football Gods willing, they will.
I'm too emotionally drained to write much else about the general game. Let's jump into the individual performances, right after the.....well, jump.
- Statistically, Matt Ryan has had equally impressive games. A couple of them have been even more impressive. I'm just not sure I've ever seen him play a better game.
He didn't turn the ball over. He made accurate throws. He got emotional, yelling at Will Svitek on the sidelines in a way that the normally reserved Matty Ice never seems to do. He wanted to win this one so bad you could see it in every gesture, and he played an enormous role in getting the Falcons there. Hell, he even managed to run a couple Saints over on quarterback sneaks. That's gumption, damnit.
I'm not a big fan of the idea of "the leap." I don't believe most players suddenly rid themselves of all their faults and arrive after one game. But we're seeing a natural, steady progression out of Ryan, and he's maturing with the Falcons. I don't think we can ask for much more.
Michael Turner carried the ball 30 times. He average less than four yards a carry in total, ending up with 114 yards and a touchdown. For long stretches early in the game, he seemed stymied, unable to get past a fairly average front seven for the Saints. It was fair to wonder what was going on.
Eventually, though, the genius (!) of Mike Mularkey's work with his backs emerged. I still think the guy calls way too many runs off our guards, but the Saints' defense was so hammered by the end of the game that Turner was able to pick up some nice gains. The guy just doesn't seem to wear down as the game goes on, which is absolutely huge.
Let's face it. We don't win this game without Turner, and we don't win it without Jason Snelling (14 carries, 62 yards). I think the team's usage of Turnelling is going to wear out a lot of defense before the year's over. If Turner doesn't finish with 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns....then he's hurt. Period.
- Roddy White disappeared off our radar for long stretches, but he came through with five nice catches, one of them a touchdown. He remains Matt Ryan's most reliable target. At times, he's a royal pain in the ass to cover, too. Gotta love that.
- Tony Gonzalez heard the whispers that he was slowing down. Instead of being crushed under the weight of them, he drank a All-Pro Diet raspberry smoothie with five pounds of protein powder and Hulked up. The end result?
Well, suffice to say, he caught eight passes for 110 yards and a touchdown. Suffice to say, Saints fans over at Canal Street Chronicles were terrified of him from the first quarter through overtime. Suffice to say, he was our best offensive player today.
John Abraham is a stone cold killer. Gouging him in the eyes only pisses him off.
On a day where the pass pressure was inconsistent, Abe provided a big sack and put in a heroic effort to get to Drew Brees all day long. He, Jonathan Babineaux and Kroy Biermann really applied the pressure, and between the three of them they forced a handful of bad throws. That's not small feat with Drew Brees, and seeing Abe return from injury gave me goosebumps.
- Speaking of the USS Babineaux, his sack of Brees was both timely and satisfying. He's Pro Bowl bound if he keeps up this pace. Corey Peters is proving to be a great complement to him.
- The run defense was stout. Extremely stout.
- Mike Peterson continues to come up with big plays. That forced fumble was the product of Peterson mustering some of his brand-name Mo Pete Tacklin', now available in both the Smashing the Saints and Crushing the Cardinals flavors. Delicious.
Brent Grimes has crazy jumping skills. Thomas DeCoud has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. They both picked up nice picks, and improbably, the Falcons lead the league in interceptions. When was the last time you could say that? This is a defense made up of ballhawks, so you may not see this pace slacken.
- Matt Bryant had an awfully rough pre-season, but he's been money in the season. That game winner was a thing of beauty. After the Jason Elam debacle it's been hard to trust the Falcons' kickers, but Bryant deserves our respect.
- The Falcons still kinda let Drew Brees pass all over them. Yeah, he's Drew Brees and all, but Lance Moore in particular was just abusing our defensive backs. Dunta Robinson let Devery Henderson get by him on one play and was fortunate to watch Henderson drop it. We're going to have to watch out for high octane passing offenses all year long unless that improves.
- You thought you were getting a free pass, Mike Mularkey? Oh ho ho!
At this point, there isn't a more Jekyll and Hyde-type offensive coordinator in the NFL. During his brilliant stretches, like the eternal drive of the spotless kind, Mularkey looks like a genius. During his terrible stretches, like the excruciating runs up the middle on three or even four straight plays, he looks like a moron. It's absolutely maddening.
Thankfully, his good stretches outnumbered his bad today, but we need more consistent quality out of Mularkey if the Falcons are going to dominate opponents. He's obviously got the mind for it, so hopefully everything will start to click in the weeks ahead.
Game MVP: Gotta go with Gonzo on this one. He was instrumental in revving up the offense, and it was great to see such a big game out of him. Kudos, Tony!
Game Theme Song: Given the chip on our shoulder coming into this one, I present you Spoon's The Underdog.
One Thing To Take Away: These Falcons are a damn good team.
Next Week: Visit Niners Nation to learn more about Mike Singletary & His Amazing Dysfunctional Team.
Final Word: Yes!