There are two truths about this football game. The first is this: The Falcons got outplayed by the Saints, who were defensively excellent and good enough offensively. They would likely have lost this game no matter what, as they were simply outplayed.
The second truth is this: The Falcons got worked over by the officiating crew in much the same way the Saints got worked over two weeks ago. As is so often the case, it’s funny when it happens to someone else, and it’s not funny when it happens to you. The Falcons earned plenty of legitimate penalties in this game, but then they also got an unnecessary roughness penalty on Devonta Freeman that had no basis in reality, and had an obvious Julio Jones touchdown (that was reviewed!) declared to be no good.
But in the end, that was not what made the difference in this game. The Saints led by two touchdowns late in the fourth quarter, and the Falcons offense continues to be one of the biggest disappointments imaginable considering their obvious talent. You can hang that on Steve Sarkisian, you can hang it on Matt Ryan, or you can hang it on his supporting cast, but it’s obvious something (or multiple somethings) is wrong here, and the Falcons will now need a win or a lot of luck to scoot into the playoffs in the final week of the season. The defense did what it could, but it was not enough.
That late, impressive touchdown to Tevin Coleman did little more than make this game look less one-sided than it ultimately was. I appreciate the effort, though, I must say, if for no other reason than that I hate getting blown out by the Saints.
The Falcons now need this win in Week 17 against the Panthers, and our faith in them is justly shaken after a miserable effort, regardless of the referees. I’ll hope they can surprise, but unfortunately pleasant surprises have been too few and far between in 2017, a year that we may someday remember as the most Falconsly coda to that magical 2016 Super Bowl year.
Here’s the drive-by-drive breakdown, if you’re a masochist.
The Falcons got the ball first in an absolutely rocking Mercedes-Benz Superdome. They got a first down quickly and Devonta Freeman had a beautiful run, but it was called back thanks to a holding penalty on Jake Matthews. A Matt Ryan scramble and a blown up run play in the backfield later, it was third and long. Marshon Lattimore made a smart play on Julio Jones and the Falcons had to punt.
The Saints got off to an encouraging start, getting into the red zone and putting them in a good position to kick a field goal, but Vic Beasley got a huge third down run stop to slow things down and force the three point try. The Saints, naturally, hit it.
Falcons 0 - Saints 3
The Falcons got a quick first down via Julio Jones, and then got backed up by a stupid call on Devonta Freeman for unnecessary roughness, in which there was no evident reason to call that in the first place. Then Taylor Gabriel picked up a ton of yards and the Falcons fell just short on third down, forcing them to make a tough decision about whether to go for it on fourth down. They chose to do so, and Devonta Freeman picked it up...except Derrick Coleman got hit with the false start and the Falcons had to punt.
The Saints got a first down primarily on the ground to start things off, and then Brees hit Mark Ingram on a play where he was under pressure to pick up another first down. Then Courtney Upshaw got a huge second down sack, and the Falcons managed to stand up Alvin Kamara on third and long to force the punt.
The Falcons got an extremely short run from Tevin Coleman, and the quarter was over.
A pass to Julio Jones for a first down started things off right, but Tevin Coleman once again found no space to run on the subsequent play. Then the Falcons picked up an incredible three straight penalties, a false start, offensive facemask, and offensive pass interference to back them up to 1st and 40, a seemingly insurmountable distance. Then Ryan took a sack on third down, and only a huge Matt Bosher punt saved that drive from being an unmitigated disaster.
The Saints picked up a first down on a nice run by Kamara. They had absolutely no problem moving from there, getting into the red zone on a series of nice quick passes and solid runs, including a big pickup from Ted Ginn. Then the Falcons appeared to get a stop, limiting the Saints and getting close to getting the stop on fourth down before Mark Ingram got it by inches. The Falcons got a one yard loss on first down, allowed a modest pickup on second down, and then Mark Ingram fumbled and recovered, leaving the Saints to kick a field goal after a very productive drive. They hit it.
Falcons 0 - Saints 6
The next drive featured the most ridiculous play you will ever see. Matt Ryan threw a ball that bounced off of Marvin Hall’s hands, landed on the butt of a Saints defender, and was picked up for an interception. It was the most fluke, dumb play you’ll ever see, and of course the Falcons were responsible for it.
The Saints, meanwhile, were probably content to settle for a field goal but took a deep strike to Ted Ginn where he beat every defender but especially Desmond Trufant en route to the touchdown. The Saints went into the half with a two score lead.
Falcons 0 - Saints 13
The Saints had the ball and a chance to build on their lead, but instead, Drew Brees threw yet another interception to Deion Jones, who returned it 41 yards to give Atlanta a chance to score in the red zone. He owns Drew Brees.
Devonta Freeman got two carries, coming up just shy on the first and fumbling the ball away on the second. The Saints recovered and had the ball back deep in their own territory.
The Saints couldn’t do much of anything, with Vic Beasley’s pass deflection on third down nearly turning into an interception. The Saints did have to punt, and Atlanta got the ball back near midfield.
The Falcons picked up 20 yards in short order, with a nice Mohamed Sanu handoff to Devonta Freeman accounting for a lot of that. Then they stalled out, forcing Matt Bryant to try a (by his standards) chip shot.
Falcons 3 - Saints 13
The Saints didn’t get much of anything going yet again, as the Falcons defense stiffened up and forced the three and out. That left Atlanta with a chance to close the gap once again.
They didn’t do so. Surprise! Somehow the officials picked up a flag they threw on an obvious pass interference call on Marshon Lattimore where he shoved Julio Jones to the ground, and despite a beautiful second down grab by Mohamed Sanu, the Falcons had to punt after Matt Ryan was sacked on third down. That plus an unnecessary roughness call on Derrick Coleman on the return—which was questionable, again—put the Saints in an excellent position.
They capitalized easily, plowing ahead and scoring a touchdown to make it 20-3. At this point, it was embarrassing for Atlanta.
Falcons 3 - Saints 20
The Falcons finally stirred to life. With Julio Jones heavily involved, the Falcons moved down the field, nearly culminating in a touchdown with a ball Julio caught in the end zone but didn’t get the call for. That ended the quarter.
Upon review, the officiating crew decided Jones did not have a touchdown, despite the opinion of most fans and the TV broadcast crew. After the Saints stuffed Devonta Freeman, they had the ball back.
The Saints barely got out of the end zone on the subsequent series, but on third down, the Falcons got hit with a pass interference and that kept the drive alive. The Falcons defense stepped up yet again, though, to force the Saints to punt and keep hope alive a little longer.
The Falcons were able to move just enough to get in Matt Bryant’s field goal range, and he hit it. Predictably.
Falcons 6 - Saints 20
The Saints were able to chew some clock and move a bit, but ultimately the Falcons forced yet another punt.
Atlanta’s offense did nothing. Matt Ryan had to dive out of the end zone to avoid a safety after being sacked on second and third down, and Matt Bosher had a short punt to put the Saints offense back on the field.
The Saints were able to get in position for a field goal, which put them up 23-6 and effectively sealed the game. That left the Falcons trying a desperation drive to try to salvage a little dignity.
Depending on your perspective, they did so. Matt Ryan hit Tevin Coleman for a touchdown (and an impressive one) to close the gap to ten points, making it 23-13 with 2:40 left in the game.
The Saints managed to run out the clock very effectively, putting the Falcons on the field with little more than a chance to make it a three point game with :23 left to go.
You will not be surprised to learn they couldn’t win, given the limited time left. All the Falcons could do was try to make something happen, and ultimately it ended at 23-13. It was, as you are no doubt aware, a terrible game.