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Falcons top Saints in thrilling 37-34 overtime victory

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As it usually does, the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints game went down to the wire.

Kevin C. Cox

These aren't the 2013 Atlanta Falcons.

When the Falcons defense needed a turnover, it produced one.

William Moore forced a fumble on Marques Colston in overtime to give the Falcons the ball at the Saints' 38-yard line. Four yards later, Matt Bryant booted the game-winning field goal from 52 yards out to give Atlanta a 37-34 victory.

Both team's offenses took center stage as defense was, for the most part, absent with the offenses combining for over a thousand yards.

Matt Ryan had a career game as he piled up yardage at will. He finished with 448 yards, setting a Falcons single-game franchise record — topping Chris Chandler's 431. He also threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions.

Ryan's great game wasn't just limited to his stats, however. He was evasive in the pocket, spinning away from sacks to make a throw downfield. He also showed off his scrambling skills a few times.

It's how the quarterback was expected to perform with serviceable protection. Ryan was only sacked once despite prized rookie Jake Matthews going down right before halftime and not returning. Gabe Carimi was inserted in the left tackle spot and played well outside of the lone sack.

Drew Brees put the Falcons defense on their heels right out the gate. New Orleans took a 6-0 lead almost immediately, with rookie receiver Brandin Cooks making big contributions.

After a costly fumble by Julio Jones at the Saints' five-yard line, New Orleans put together a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive.

Down 13-0, Ryan led the offense on a lengthy 14-play, 80-yard drive that lasted over seven minutes. A two-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White put the Falcons on the board.

With 20 seconds left before the half, Atlanta showed a little aggressiveness and picked up 58 yards in three plays to get into field goal range. Bryant's field goal from 40 yards out put the score at 20-10 in favor of the Saints heading into halftime.

But the quick drive came at a cost as both White and Matthews went down with injuries and left for the locker room early. As said above, Matthews would not return.

The Falcons would take the lead in the third quarter after putting up 14 point and holding the Saints to none. Antone Smith flashed his dangerous speed by taking a short pass 54 yards to the house. Smith's touchdown gave the Falcons a 24-20 lead heading into the fourth.

Both teams combined for 24 points in the final quarter. A three-yard touchdown run from Mark Ingram gave the Saints a 34-31 lead with 1:20 left.

The Falcons picked up 47 yards to set up the 51-yard game-tying field goal.

What to Feel Confident About

The offense — Atlanta finished with 568 yards on offense (445 passing; 123 rushing). That's the most ever in franchise history. Ryan has quite possibly the game of his career with his 448 yards on 31 of 43 passing. The supporting cast consistently made plays, too: four receivers finished with at least five catches and 60 yards. Ryan spread the ball around as five other players each had a reception. The offensive line kept Ryan clean aside from the single sack given up. Each running back had a chance to tote the ball. As a unit, Atlanta's running back averaged 4.9 yards per rush.

Desmond Trufant and Robert AlfordThe young cornerbacks performed admirably against one the league's best quarterbacks in Brees. While Alford was called for a couple of penalties — and I won't get into whether or not they were fair calls — he, like Trufant, had key pass deflections. Considering the lack of a pass rush, it was a job well done by the second-year players.

Matt Bryant — He's clutch.

Causes for Concern

(Lack of) pass rush — The Falcons could not muster much of any pressure on Brees. He was largely able to find his targets without much trouble in a clean pocket. It was clear in the preseason the Falcons didn't have much of a pass rush, but the problem is amplified in a regular season game against a good quarterback. The one sack by Jonathan Babineaux was erased due to a penalty. Coming off his Achilles tear last season, Kroy Biermann was largely ineffective.

Penalties — The team shot itself in the foot several times with penalties. They finished the game with 10 infractions for 96 yards. Compare that to New Orleans' three penalties for 27 yards.

Robert McClainWhile McClain did have a huge drive-ending interception, he was beaten routinely by Cooks. Javier Arenas was inactive, and you have to wonder if he'll be inactive next week against the Cincinnati Bengals.