It’s near impossible to imagine that a team scoring 37 points and not turning the ball over would lose, but that’s exactly what happened on Sunday against the Saints. It was like hitting the jackpot in the loser’s lottery.
We’re all still extremely bitter about how this one turned out, and will be until at least this Sunday when the Bengals head to town. For now, let’s take a glance at the commendations and condemnations from Atlanta’s loss to New Orleans.
Calvin Ridley’s coming out party
Calvin Ridley certainly has receiver-needy teams regretting passing on him in the 2018 NFL Draft, and the clinic he put on against the Saints was just a joy to behold. I could lob plaudits at a number of Ridley’s plays from Sunday; the nasty double move he put on P.J. Williams for his first touchdown, the body control he displayed to get both feet down in bounds for his third touchdown. The kid is simply unreal.
He finished his day with seven receptions for 146 yards and three touchdowns, and is proving a potent threat in the red zone, where the Falcons are now 8-8 over the past two games. Calvin Ridley is opening up the offense for Matt Ryan, and Sunday felt a bit like 2016 with Ryan getting eight different receivers involved. This offense is at its best when all of its weapons are employed in the game plan, and Ridley’s emergence has it churning and scoring points.
Matt Ryan’s execution
Matt Ryan has put together two sterling weeks at quarterback and silenced many a critic along the way. His game against the Saints was among his finest in the NFL, throwing for 374 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. He was seeing the field exceptionally well, utilizing an array of his receiving options — even Logan Paulsen got in on the fun.
Deep ball, short pass, throwing from the pocket or on the run, Ryan had it all working on Sunday. It’s unfortunate to see his stat line saddled next to a loss, but none of it had to do with his play. He was dialed in, and deserves multiple tips of the hat for his outstanding performance.
Vic Beasley sighting
With 10:36 remaining in the third quarter, Vic Beasley materialized from the alternate dimension where he’s presumably logging sacks and treated us to one here in right-side-up world. Beasley has been rightly maligned for his disappearing act and failure to impact the passing game, but he can still flash his speed and devastating first step.
Beasley blasted past first-round left tackle Ryan Ramczyk and pummeled Drew Brees for the sack and loss of five yards. Beasley gets a suspicious, furrowed brow tip of the hat this week, because he needs to show up more consistently.
Brian Poole’s missed tackle on Drew Brees
Brian Poole had a couple of contenders for the head-scratchers portion of this column, but none loomed larger than his missed tackle on Drew Brees to allow the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. Whiffs on tackles in key moments told the story in what was a poor defensive performance, and Poole’s inability to drag down Brees in a pivotal moment ultimately decided the game.
With all of the injuries on defense — and now with Ricardo Allen out for the year — Brian Poole is being asked to do a lot. With that caveat in mind, his situational awareness on that tackle attempt deserves criticism. Looking to knock Drew Brees into next week, he instead knocked Robert Alford off of the play and allowed Brees to dive into the end zone. We all respect Brian Poole’s physicality, but his unfettered aggression in attempting to blow up Drew Brees instead of securing the tackle was the biggest head-scratcher of the day.
Steve Sarkisian has now gone consecutive games where the offense looks fluid, dangerous, and in-sync. He’s really done a great job at getting people to put the pitchforks away. But the final offensive possession in the first half? Godawful.
Two quick runs and a short incomplete pass turned into a quick three-and-out, gifting promising field position to the Saints. They promptly took advantage, and Wil Lutz put a 45-yard field goal through the uprights to enter the locker room with the lead.
This type of conservative playcalling in a situation where mashing the gas should be the modus operandi has doomed the Falcons before. With 1:36 left on the clock, Atlanta had the opportunity to put a scoring drive together. Instead, they surrendered three points and limped off the field.
Blocked punt in the third quarter
The Falcons have been flirting with disaster on punt protection the first couple of weeks, and it seemed the dam was destined to break sooner than later. It finally did at the most inopportune time (not that there’s any preferred time), as Alex Okafor got around Foyesade Oluokun and blocked the punt. Craig Robertson recovered the ball and ran it down to the Atlanta 16-yard line, giving the Saints excellent field position.
They would cash in on the special teams play moments later, as Cameron Meredith secured a Drew Brees pass over the middle for the score. Keith Armstrong was definitely displeased, and we were all scratching our heads in disbelief.