The 2019 season was one which left more to forget than to remember. Coming off of a 7-9 season in 2018, the Falcons fell well short of expectations and repeated their 7-9 mark a year later.
However, there were some positive moments to pick out from the disappointing campaign. Those moments may have been few and far between for a team that started the year 1-7 and elected to make no major changes to its coaching staff or front office, but they were still present.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we will count down the five best moments of the 2019 season from five to one. Keep in mind that this is a very subjective exercise and that not everyone’s five best moments will match this countdown. However, that’s what makes it fun. Discussion will be sparked, and that can help distract us as we pass through the offseason.
This will not be a list of whole games (for example, you will not see “Falcons beat the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans as Michael Thomas and Drew Brees fail to stat pad a touchdown in the closing moments of the game” in this countdown), nor full player performances (you will not see “Matt Ryan’s ninth consecutive 4000-yard season” listed). It will be a list consisting of singular plays, or pairs of plays if they coincide with one another.
Today, we look at the third best moment of the 2019 season.
Number 3: Brian Hill’s touchdown catch makes a shocking win in New Orleans feel like a real possibility (Week 10 at Saints)
There were no real expectations of the Falcons when they came out of the bye week sitting at a 1-7 record, especially not in a game where they had to travel to New Orleans to face an imposing 7-1 Saints team.
I don’t have to get into the hatred that animates this rivalry and why it’s never acceptable to lose to the Saints — it’s something we all know too well. Even with each team sitting on different poles in the standings, this was a must win for both sides.
The Louisiana Superdome always seems like it’s a bit louder when the Falcons come to town; the fans in New Orleans also understand the gravity of this hatred.
You never know what to expect in a rivalry game, especially one which is always so closely contested, but it was nonetheless shocking what we saw in New Orleans on that Sunday afternoon — the Falcons imposed their will and played the type of complete game we hadn’t seen from them in over a year.
Atlanta successfully moved the ball downfield while killing clock thanks to a successful rushing attack, a series of third down conversions, and a bunch of hands to the face penalties on Saints players.
Meanwhile, after Dan Quinn ceded play-calling duties to Raheem Morris and Jeff Ulbrich, the defense looked completely reborn, sacking Drew Brees six times (they went four straight games without recording a sack in the first half of the season).
Despite all of this however, the Saints withstood Atlanta’s punch and looked to be finding their footing in the game — trailing only 13-9 midway through the third quarter.
With momentum looking like it could swing in either direction, Atlanta’s ensuing drive following Wil Lutz’s third field goal of the game was a statement.
The Birds started the drive on their own 25-yard-line with 6:05 left in the third quarter. They went 13 plays, converted three third downs, and capped the possession off with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Brian Hill with 14:54 remaining in the game.
Desperate to hold the Falcons to a field goal and to keep it a one-possession game, the Saints forced Atlanta into a 3rd-and-8, 10 yards from the end zone. They got pressure on Matt Ryan but couldn’t knock him down before he managed to find a wide open Brian Hill who leaked out of the back field, shook off A.J. Klein in coverage, and leapt into the end zone. This gave Atlanta a 20-9 lead with just a quarter left to play.
In a vacuum, this is your run of the mill touchdown connection between a quarterback and a running back. However, the reason why I singled this particular play out is because this was the moment where victory in New Orleans seemed very real — where you knew it was no longer just a matter of time before the Saints took control of the game.
The fact that this play came right after Matt Ryan converted another 3rd-and-8 with his legs was demoralizing to both the Saints’ defense and fanbase.
The Falcons went on to win this game in blowout fashion, 26-9, and it went down as the best win of the season in my opinion. Losing this game ended up costing the Saints a first-round bye week as they lost to the Minnesota Vikings in the Wildcard round, making this moment even sweeter.