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Falcons vs. Saints recap: One loss with a three loss shadow

A key injury and a heart-crushing finish makes the latest chapter in the rivalry hurt even worse.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

You all saw that game, and I lack the word-based wizardry necessary to perfectly encapsulate your feelings. We all felt solid about this one, and the end result hurt all the more because it was the Saints and the Falcons could have won it.

Atlanta was abysmal on defense for much of the game, but that was not unexpected. I had hope the Falcons would be able to come up with a turnover or two along the way, but they didn’t do so, barely got after Drew Brees, and wound up surrendering 43 points as a result. That combined with a fatally conservative decision at the end of the first half were enough to lose the game despite an inspiring performance from the offense, especially Calvin Ridley.

Atlanta was good enough to win this game, with all their injuries, but they didn’t. The fact that they went to overtime and lost and lost Ricardo Allen just makes this sting even more than it would have, and now the Falcons are looking up at the rest of the division for at least one week. With the possibility of yet another serious injury and a loss to the most hated division rival, this felt like way more than just a simple loss in Week 3. Whether it will prove to be merely a blip on the radar or the first nail in the coffin depends entirely on whether the Falcons get healthier in a hurry or figure out a much better contingency plan on defense. They won’t play the Saints every week, which is a cheerful note, but they’re still liable to get outgunned if the D can’t rush the passer, can’t force turnovers, and can’t make key stops when they need to.

There’s a hopeful note to sound here. The Falcons still have talent, and they’re rounding the corner on offense in a way that should make for some awesome performances going forward. But they need to be great the rest of the way to overcome an unreal number of injuries, especially if Ricardo Allen is out for any length of time, and I don’t yet know if they have that in them. This next home game against a surprisingly good Bengals team will help us get a better gauge at how this injured defense is going to fare going forward.

On to the full recap, though, before we linger overmuch.

The Good

  • Calvin Ridley is magic. After his miserable first game, he’s been great, and he was utterly dominant in the early going against New Orleans, abusing P.J. Williams and the Saints secondary for multiple first downs and then a touchdown from Matt Ryan. That’s his second of the year! In three games!

Then he somehow got better, scoring a Super Saiyan 75 yard touchdown where he slowed down and showboated and still easily made it into the end zone to give him his second touchdown of the day. It was an unbelievable performance at this point—Ridley has 129 yards—and we weren’t even to halftime.

And then he scored again! The Falcons’ offense ran through Ridley all day, and he put together one of the great rookie performances in recent memory. His route running and speed make him a dangerous weapon, especially in the red zone, and the Falcons seem poised to take full advantage of that.

  • Give a ton of credit to Matt Ryan, who was working with no run game and an offensive line that had a couple of costly penalties and missed blocks at times and still managed one of the better performances of his career. Ryan threw a lot of on-target, zippy passes yesterday, ran the ball (semi-effectively), and avoided any turnovers, giving Atlanta an excellent chance to win the game in spite of everything else. Unfortunately, they didn’t capitalize.
  • Julio Jones needs to get some love for both his excellent catches in this game and the attention he commanded. The Falcons have been talking about Julio’s ability to draw coverage away from other options for years, but they’ve rarely had someone who could hurt opposing defenses badly enough that this seemed like anything but a smart strategy. With Calvin Ridley destroying the Saints and Panthers in back-to-back weeks, it’s fair to wonder when defenses are going to need to stop zeroing in on Julio, and what that will mean for #11.
  • The backs looked good catching the ball again. Ito Smith looks like the real deal, doing a great job of snagging balls thrown his way and navigating his way upfield, while Tevin Coleman snagged a nice short touchdown grab of his own. The problem was that they got nothing going on the ground minus Devonta Freeman.
  • It is very difficult to throw a lot of praise toward the Falcons defense on a week like this, but I’ll call out a few things I noticed. Duke Riley definitely looked better this week, even if his instincts sometimes got him into trouble, and not all of those 12 combined tackles were just pile jumps. Vic Beasley had a sack, even if he otherwise had a quiet day. And uh the secondary did sometimes um make some key stops and uh I have to stop now.
  • Steve Sarkisian is just calling better games. With the Saints putting a lot of coverage on Julio Jones, he dialed up plenty of throws for Calvin Ridley. He helped spring Julio for a huge gain, and those passes to Ito were well-planned. I just wish the team had been willing to run even less, as weird as it is to type that, and that they hadn’t made such a grave mistake before the half. More on that shortly.

The Ugly

  • That first defensive series was hilariously bad. The Falcons missed tackles, had lapses in coverage and let the Saints take an early touchdown lead with barely any resistance. The Saints are hard to stop, especially when they have a scripted first drive banked, but that was legitimately pathetic.

It didn’t get much better the rest of the way. The man at fault was different every time, but the Falcons couldn’t get the Saints locked down when they needed to again and again and again. That arguably culminated in an embarrassing seven yard Drew Brees scramble for a touchdown, but it was really cemented by the fact that the Saints got the ball to start overtime and we all expected them to score, which is what they did. No one is saying that New Orleans isn’t a tough out, but to manage one sack, zero turnovers and 43 points allowed at home is miserable even with injuries ravaging the unit.

  • Steve Sarkisian called a strong first half overall—minus the insistence on running the ball when it just wasn’t working—but he really porked it with his decision to try to be very conservative with the ball leading up to halftime. The Falcons didn’t get much of anything going and also ruined their chances of running enough time off the clock, thanks to a couple of passes in the mix, and ultimately punted and gave the Saints a chance at three points that they gladly took and converted. Sark’s getting there, but he and the rest of this coaching staff consistently make decisions that show terrible situational awareness.

When you consider that the Falcons actually getting a couple of first downs, which they had only done through the air to that point, would have carried them into halftime without the Saints having much of a shot at three points, you could argue this decision helped cost them this game.

  • The offense line quietly had a pretty so-so game just a week after impressing against Carolina. They held well enough for Ryan to enjoy a historic passing game, yes, but penalties and poor blocking killed multiple drives. The run blocking was also downright laughable, with Tevin Coleman routinely having nowhere to go. They’re better than they looked against New Orleans, but it wasn’t great timing for a mediocre effort.
  • That was really the tale of this game, wasn’t it? The Saints were never going to roll over, but they hadn’t looked quite this good on offense all year, and the run defense completely shutting down Atlanta was bizarre and unexpected. The Falcons made only a handful of huge mistakes in terms of play calling and execution, but that plus a lackluster performance was enough to lose this game. At some point, overcoming adversity means playing and coaching better, and the Falcons are going to need to do more of that to win games as their margin of error gets thinner.

The Wrapup

Game MVP

Give it to Ryan and Ridley, who were both stellar and kept the Falcons in this game until the bitter end.

One Takeaway

If you loved the Mike Smith Falcons, you’re going to love this team.

Next Week

The Cincinnati Bengals, who are 2-1 and could be 3-0 if not for a little bit of rough luck against the Panthers. Check out Cincy Jungle for more about a tough opponent.

Final Word

Sorry, no more words.