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Falcons 17, Saints 20: Atlanta ends the season with one final, crushing loss

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The game underscores how much work is ahead of this team.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

First Quarter

The Falcons won the toss, and in a surprising twist of fate, decided to defer, starting the game on defense. Just kidding, that wasn't at all surprising.

Atlanta's defense forced a stop on the opening possession, and the Falcons responded by marching down the field to score a field goal. It was a long attempt for Shayne Graham, 51 yards, but he made it. The Falcons took an early 3-0 lead after a 5:51, 56-yard drive.

Atlanta's special teams coverage looked rocky early, allowing Saints return specialist Travaris Cadet to take the ensuing kick to the New Orleans 30-yard line. The Saints offense started rolling, kicking off the drive with a 6-yard Cadet run and then a 36-yard reception by Cadet. The Saints were helped along by a roughing the passer penalty on Vic Beasley that gave them a fresh set of downs, and despite having a Tim Hightower touchdown overturned due to a holding penalty on Zach Strief, Hightower got in the end zone two plays later to give the Saints a 7-3 lead.

The Falcons took over on their own 18 and commenced a drive, getting to the New Orleans 47-yard line before the end of the quarter.

Second Quarter

Atlanta took a 10-7 lead with the second play in the second quarter on a lumbering 42-yard Tony Moeaki touchdown. It was what Falcons fans all expected, obviously.

The Saints answered immediately, though, capping off a nine-play, 68-yard drive with a Benjamin Watson touchdown that was initially ruled incomplete. Review overturned the call, and the Saints took a 14-10 lead over the Falcons. A blocked Shayne Graham field goal attempt on the Falcons' ensuing possession kept the Saints' lead intact.

Atlanta's defense stopped New Orleans on a fourth-and-one attempt with a big hit from Robert Alford, and the Falcons took over with 3:29 remaining in the half. The Falcons finished the second quarter strong with a Matt Ryan touchdown pass to Devonta Freeman, and the Falcons carried a 17-14 lead into the half.

Third Quarter

Atlanta got the ball to start the second half, and did nothing with it. The Saints stopped the Falcons near midfield and took over on their own 8 after a fair catch by Cadet. Atlanta's defense stopped New Orleans on third down after three consecutive incomplete passes, and Kai Forbath hit a 41-yard field goal to tie the game up at 17-17.

The Falcons took over on their own 27 after a 26-yard return from Devin Hester, and they marched down to the New Orleans 9-yard line, helped along by a penalty on the Saints for having 12 men on the field as well as a big time Justin Hardy catch on third down to extend the drive.

Fourth Quarter

This is where the wheels came off. The Falcons drove into the red zone, but Devonta Freeman fumbled and the Saints recovered. They then immediately drove nearly all the way down the field before they fumbled it away on the one yard line, giving the ball back to Atlanta. The Falcons then started a nice little drive of their own that got to the 34 yard line...and would have been in field goal range, if not for a 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalty on Andy Levitre.

And yet the Falcons were still alive after they forced a three and out for the Saints offense yet again, giving the ball back to Atlanta with 1:47 left and a chance to put the game away. Matt Ryan then threw the game-sealing, backbreaking interception on a ball intended for Devonta Freeman over the middle, and the Saints were able to get into field goal range and kick the game winner as time expired. A 20-17 loss and plenty of sour feelings for the Falcons.

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