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Falcons - Saints recap: No bangs, many whimpers

It was a game effort by the defense, and something else entirely by the offense.

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saint Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons had too much talent coming into this year to be a bad team, and they haven’t been. But despite their record, and despite a handful of impressive wins, they have been a deeply disappointing team at times, a collection of talent turned inert by piles upon piles of mistakes.

I kept thinking Atlanta would ease out of their bad habits, but then when it became apparent that would not happen, I embraced the possibility that they would just need to win ugly. When you play ugly and don’t win, though, you’re just left with the ugly. The ugly was legion against the Saints.

The Falcons basically were not even in this game after halftime. They were slapped silly with penalties in the first half, some just, some not, but the disquieting play of the offense continued. It was that play, plus some lapses by the defense, that led to Atlanta losing this one 23-13. It was familiar and frustrating.

Start with the offense, which has now ground to a halt for long stretches of the last four games. Matt Ryan’s lone interception was fluky and the Devonta Freeman probably equally so, but they both wound up being incredibly costly, and Atlanta simply could not get the big plays they needed to. Matt Ryan was pressured often and Ben Garland, in particular, was blown off the line by the Saints after two encouraging weeks. Marvin Hall and Taylor Gabriel got their hands on passes they couldn’t come down with, and Freeman was surprisingly bottled up and has now fumbled four times in the last few weeks. Almost every starter on this offense is a good player, at minimum, but the results for the unit have been increasingly disquieting.

The defense did an impressive job of bottling up Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara, in particular, for much of the game, and Deion Jones came up with a huge interception that would have loomed even larger had the Falcons not screwed up their opportunity to score. But they also let Ted Ginn roast them more than once, allowed Mark Ingram to bust out some big runs, and generally let the Saints leisurely chew up time and yards before coming up with a big stop. Once again the defense was the better unit, especially on paper, but once again it was an effort that left a bit to be desired.

Considering the Falcons had to play the Saints on the road this week, a loss was not wholly unexpected. The manner of the loss, with Atlanta having team health on their side and all the motivation you could ever ask for, was profoundly depressing. The issues that Dan Quinn and company have pledged to fix have not improved, and that means this Panthers game has truly become a do-or-die one for Atlanta, without the kind of encouraging progress in this Saints game that would inspire real faith. The Falcons may well make the playoffs, and they may well finally get all these pieces spinning in unison, but they are not to be trusted to do so.

Given the stakes, I legitimately cannot believe how badly this team got kicked in the teeth. Am I extra bitter because Saints fans get to talk trash this week? You bet.

Anyways, it’s Christmas morning, so those of you reading this probably aren’t in the mood for much more dour reflection. Go have fun with your family and friends, and then come back and digest our full recap below.

The Good

  • Julio Jones fared much better against Marshon Lattimore and the Saints secondary this week, and might have had an even bigger day if Lattimore hadn’t arguably gotten away with a couple of pass interferences sprinkled in there. Unfortunately, he and Tevin Coleman (owner of today’s only Falcons touchdown) were the only two receiving options who had real success against the New Orleans defense.
  • There are no words for how good Deion Jones is against the Saints. He started off the second half by intercepting Drew Brees again and nearly returning it for a touchdown. The fact that Atlanta did not do anything with their golden opportunity does not invalidate how awesome it is that Debo owns Brees.
  • Vic Beasley had one of his best weeks of the year, getting some pressure against Brees, tipping a pass into the air, and coming up with a couple of key run stops. The Saints aren’t scoring just 23 points if he isn’t heavily involved.
  • Courtney Upshaw has had a quiet year that was further silenced by injury, but he got his first sack against New Orleans, and it was a good one that forced the Saints into a third and long situation. Nice move, Upshaw.
  • Matt Bryant, automatic, astonishingly good for his age, etc.

The Ugly

  • Matt Ryan got eaten alive by the pressure. I would have liked to see him get rid of the ball instead of taking a couple of sacks, but honestly you have to point the finger at an offensive line that also didn’t block particularly well for Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman yesterday. It was easily one of their worst efforts of the season, and it worked against everyone on offense.
  • Marvin Hall and Taylor Gabriel were the latest Falcons to let slightly high but catchable balls ricochet off their hands, with disastrous results for Hall and merely disappointing ones for Gabriel. Drops and bobbles and misses aren’t the only or even primary reason
  • The defense struggled, somewhat predictably, to completely stop a Saints offense that was at close to full strength, and they did so. They were amazingly fortunate (and hell, extremely good at times) to hold the Saints to score just 6 points in the first half until that last, bonkers play, but New Orleans ate the clock even so. The 10 points in the second half were keyed by a couple explosive plays Atlanta just didn’t handle with strong tackling, which was disappointing.
  • The Falcons continue to get nailed with holding calls at the absolute worst moment. Devonta Freeman reeled off a huge gain that looked like a 20-plus yarder, only for Jake Matthews to get hid with a holding call on a play where he certainly did not need to hold. Too many unnecessary mistakes for the Falcons this year, to put it mildly.
  • Pete Morelli’s crew absolutely screwed up calling unnecessary roughness on Devonta Freeman in the first quarter, after a play where Freeman seemed to catch a little extracurricular cleat from a Saints defender before pushing his leg away and mouthing off a bit. I said last game that I felt the Saints got some very questionable calls against them, and this was charitably an uneven effort from Morelli’s crew, with plenty of justified calls mixing with two very strange, arguably unjustified penalties against Freeman. The coup de grace was the play where Julio Jones, despite having control of the ball and having two feet seemingly down in the end zone, was denied a touchdown on review. Let’s just say I’d rather not see Morelli again.
  • If any one play sums up the Falcons’ 2017 season, it was the pass off of Marvin Hall’s hand that bounced around on a Saints defender’s butt for several seconds before someone grabbed it and got the interception, which led to a touchdown, which led to a 13-0 Saints lead at halftime. It was insanely unlucky, dumb, and costly, and it is exactly the kind of play the Falcons would be involved in this year. It’s not an exaggeration, given the potential 10-14 point swing it represented, to say that it cost Atlanta the game.

The Wrapup

Game MVP

Us. We watched the Falcons on Christmas Eve, and we watched them lose to the Saints. Give us a trophy.

One Takeaway

The Falcons have not actually fixed any of the problems that have regularly doomed them, no matter how many times they have assured us they were working on it, and no matter how many times we may have thought for a week or two that they had done so.

Next Week

For all the marbles, the Carolina Panthers at home. A win and the Falcons are in as the #6 seed, a loss and their fate is dependent on what the Seattle Seahawks do in Week 17. Visit Cat Scratch Reader for more.

Final Word