The Falcons came into this game favored, with an obvious advantage in overall talent, and a 5-0 record. Unfortunately, this was a road game, and these were the Saints.
New Orleans dug deep and came up with a strong performance against Atlanta, and the Falcons obliged them further through ugly mistakes, a handful of bad defensive plays, and frequent stalled drives. You have to give the Saints credit for coming up with a gameplan built around the kind of short passes that have killed the Falcons all year long, and you have to give them credit for a stout defensive effort and heads-up plays on the Falcons' turnovers. It's hard to escape the sense that a lot of the Falcons' wounds were self-inflicted in this game, even so.
On the short week, the Falcons looked sloppy and uninspired. They frequently allowed long third down conversions, turned the ball over, and churned out anemic possessions. Given that they were playing a struggling Saints team also on a short week, the effort was nothing short of embarrassing. You can throw in mitigating factors if you like, but the Falcons should not have been completely outclassed in this game, even if a loss was always a possibility. The fact that they were blown off the field by the Saints makes this feel like three losses, frankly.
If you're looking for a reason this happened, you'll come up empty, because there is no one reason. These Falcons have gotten away with sloppy play this season, a short week usually favors the home team, the Saints' offense matched up well against the Falcons' defense, and the Falcons' offense is clearly missing Mike Person and clearly not in a rhythm in the passing game. Couple that with a feisty Saints team ginning up a quality performance and you've got a recipe for disaster, and that's what we saw. If you're looking for a larger lesson from this game, it's simply this: The Falcons are not yet a great team, and they are perfectly capable of getting their asses kicked.
One loss doesn't invalidate everything the Falcons have done thus far, though, and they remain a 5-1 football team in the NFC, where a playoff spot will remain within reach so long as they don't repeat this week's performanec anytime soon. In conjunction with all those narrow wins that preceded it, it does underscore just how much work the team has to do. With a long layoff between now and their next game, it's the ideal time to rest, regroup, and figure out how they can stop making so many mistakes.
For now, all we can do is wrap our heads around the loss, hope Carolina drops one this weekend on the road against Seattle, and look forward to next week's game. We'll be able to learn a lot more about this football team when we saw whether they rebound from this loss.
On to the notes from the game.
- I'm not going to say Matt Ryan had a good performance, but some of that was out of his control. He avoided interceptions this week, was generally accurate, and made some nice plays escaping from the pocket. Considering he was under pressure all night, sacked multiple times, saw his receivers drop passes, and watched the Saints effectively stick 2-3 players on Julio at all times, it was an improved performance.
Ryan does have to try to keep a tighter grip on the ball. He fumbled multiple times last night under pressure.
- Devonta Freeman put up over 100 yards and a pretty touchdown run yet again,and is the best thing the offense has going right now. Thank goodness he's here.
- Roddy White came alive in this one, which is fitting because he appears to hate the Saints as much as any dedicated fan. His touchdown catch on Brandon Browner was just a nice play, and it was good to see the best receiver in franchise history getting involved in the passing game again.
- In games where other teams are stacking the box, Tevin Coleman offers a possible solution. The Falcons sprung him late in the first quarter, and Coleman's breakaway speed allowed him to turn a potential short gain into a long one.The fumble ruined the momentum for him, but I remain bullish on his ability and potential.
- Adrian Clayborn had a sack, the only one of the night for Atlanta, and brought a little heat on a few other plays. Rare bright spot last night.
- The Falcons are still 5-1? Boy, this is a short list.
- It was an ugly start to the game for the defense, which allowed the Saints to move 80 yards on just 12 plays to open things up. You expect an offense to drive fairly well at the beginning of the game, and the Saints are as wily as ever, but that was a deeply unfortunate turn of events that panicked the fanbase early.
Unfortunately, the fanbase was right to panic.
- The Falcons made the smart, aggressive call to go for it on fourth down and short on their first drive...only to see the handoff from Ryan make contact with Patrick DiMarco's shoulder, bounce out, and hit the ground. That kind of set the tone.
- The blocking was ugly last night, and it bled into the special teams effort. Matt Bosher's punt was blocked in the first quarter because a Saints special teamer broke right through the middle of the line.The pass protection was consistently bad, with James Stone and Chris Chester absorbing a ton of damage while every lineman got in on the fun at some point during the night. Considering Ryan took a ton of hits and fumbled multiple times, this has to get cleaned up.
- I like James Stone, I was rooting for him to earn the starting job at center...but he had a miserable game. Several botched snaps and middling-to-lousy protection means he may be heading for the bench in favor of Gino Gradkowski, but I think his snapping woes were more yips than anything else.
- So. Many. Mistakes. Devonta Freeman had a drop, Leonard Hankerson had a couple of ugly drops, and there were just so many fumbles and bumbles and miscuse that you can hardly count all of them. It's fair to say this is a drastically different football game if the Falcons don't squander their red zone chances, but it's a moot point, because those turnovers happened.
- There are two persistent issues I'm concerned about right now: The inability to cover the middle of the field, and the passing game's sudden struggles. Strip the turnovers from the offense and chances are we're less concerned about the latter, but Ryan's got to get going, receivers have to get open, and the pass protection has to improve back to pre-Washington levels if this team is going to put big points on the board.
The inability to cover the middle of the field is a problem that may not be going away, however. That's a strikingly pessimistic thing to type, but Justin Durant is only one (injured) man, and he's the only linebacker on the roster who can be said to be an asset in coverage, and the Falcons are still getting gouged by tight ends and running backs over the middle even when he's in the lineup. The coaching staff is going to have to get create to solve this one, because simply switching up personnel probably isn't going to do the trick for Atlanta. Considering teams now know this is a prominent weakness worth exploiting, they have to at least tighten things up.
Game MVP: It's Freeman. He was the best player on the field for Atlanta last night, and that's becoming a trend at this point.
Theme Song: /sad theme from Hulk
One Takeaway: All those weaknesses we saw from this Falcons team remain, and they'll be costly down the road if the team can't erase them.
Next Week: The rapidly improving Tennessee Titans, ably represented by SB Nation's Music City Miracles. Check 'em out.
Final Word: It'salwaystheSaints.