Some of you will be disappointed that the Falcons have moved further away from a top 10 pick. But for me, anytime you can beat the Saints is cause for celebration - especially when it is your awful defense that is leading the way. While the team hasn't yet wrapped up a playoff spot, the victory against the Saints was huge - it was the first time the Falcons have swept the series since Sean Payton took the reigns in NOLA.
With that said, here are my three key takeaways from the game:
1. The defense looked not only improved, but they actually looked good
Let's get this out of the way first: I am not saying this defense has turned the corner - not by a long shot. The Saints have struggled at home in recent weeks and there were still elements of their offense we seemed unable to stop consistently. But, to hold Drew Brees and the Saints to just 14 points - with the first seven being more of a special teams failure than defensive - and to generate 2 fumbles and 2 interceptions is nothing to sneeze at.
The Falcons defense got contributions from every level. Trufant was his normal top-5 CB self. Hageman was disruptive and nasty. Babs was dominant. Worrilow was very good. McClain came up with a huge INT. Ishmael came through with a critical strip and recovery. Even Osi contributed, harassing Brees on several occasions.
What really stands out is how well many of our young guys played. Guys like Trufant, Hageman and Ishmael showed that there is a core nucleus of players that can be built upon for the future. It's an encouraging performance, and one that must be built on if 2015 is going to be a success.
2. Devonta Freeman should be the lead RB not only in 2015, but now
When Steven Jackson went down early in the game, very few Falcons fans were worried. Most of us have been wanting to see Freeman get more touches this year anyways, and this Sunday showed why. The rookie running back had his best game as a Falcon. He ran the ball 5 times for 36 yards and a TD. He also 3 passes for 48 yards, including a beautiful over the shoulder toss early in the game. But what holds the most promise is how Freeman held up in pass protection. On a couple of occasions he did a good job picking up blitzes and he seemed far more comfortable in those responsibilities in this game.
The fact that he contributed in all of those phases (and special teams as well) has shown that Freeman should not only be our lead running back in 2015, but he should finish this regular season with that responsibility as well. Given that it's a nearly foregone conclusion that Steven Jackson will be gone after this year, there's no time like the present to see what your RB of the future can do with a bigger workload.
3. Ryan is quietly having another great season, despite the record
On Sunday, Ryan was the best QB on the field. This was also true during week 1 when we beat the Saints at home. And while others have chosen to focus intensely on some of Ryan's terrible interceptions this year, the reality is that our franchise QB has actually had a very good season.
On the year, Ryan has completed 66.4% of his passes (reminder: his receivers have dropped 33 passes this year) for 4,434 yards with 28 TDs and 12 INTs. His 96.7 passer rating is his second highest score for a year - with the 99.1 he posted in 2012 being his highest. If he passes for more than 300 yards in the final game, he will set a career high in yardage, while one more TD will tie him for his 2nd highest TD total in a season.
Without a doubt, Ryan has had some rough games this year - which is true for even the best, like Rodgers, Brady and Manning - but his overall season has been very good. No matter how this season ends, Ryan deserves to be recognized as one of the better QBs in the league.
So, what say you? What are some of your takeaways from the game on Sunday?