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Falcons - Saints instant recap: Atlanta puts us back on the roller coaster from hell

The Falcons built up a big lead, looked great, and then frittered away the game in all-too-familiar fashion.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

All we wanted to kick off the season was a win over the Saints. It seemed like we’d get one throughout most of the day, but the Falcons of yore reared their ugly head and surrendered a seemingly rock solid lead, turning what seemed to be a sweet Sunday afternoon into one that was simultaneously sour and bitter.

Atlanta had a huge lead and kept getting it back after the Saints threatened, heading into the fourth quarter in excellent shape. A combination of some conservative play calling and simple issues in execution allowed the Saints to get back into, with New Orleans getting within two points late in the game and leaving the Falcons no choice but to execute effectively to keep their lead and win the game. Atlanta couldn’t do so, and it cost them the game.

The Falcons showed us a much more effective ground game, better blocking, and the kind of play from Marcus Mariota and the passing game that will at least keep them in games this season, as well as a real pass rush for long stretches. They also showed us the same alarming tendency to wilt late and make things way too close, one that cost them the game when the penalties, execution errors, and failures became too great to overcome. The end result was a one point loss that saw the Falcons fritter away a lead and fall in heartbreaking fashion, the same old sort of performance that came after an offseason of sweeping changes. Atlanta’s 2022 was never going to be an easy ride, but we hoped it wouldn’t be difficult in this exact way.

Here’s a blow-by-blow of the game we just watched.

1st Quarter

Atlanta received the ball. Marcus Mariota took it for 11 yards on an opening scramble, followed by a nice run by Cordarrelle Patterson. Mariota couldn’t find Kyle Pitts on the sideline but got Parker Hesse over the middle for a first down, and the Falcons were at midfield. Atlanta did get close enough to get Younghoe Koo into field goal range before faltering—notably Marcus Mariota did a very nice job of buying himself on time on third down, only to not have an open man—and Koo hit it from 54. 3-0 Falcons.

The Saints went three and out, getting two runs for 7 combined yards from Alvin Kamara and missing in part thanks to sticky coverage by Jaylinn Hawkins on third down. Punt.

The Falcons stalled out, as well, with Damien Williams getting hurt and Marcus Mariota misfiring on a pass. Punt.

The Saints, unfortunately, did not stall out again. On third down and short, Taysom Hill took it 57 yards to put the Saints within reach. Shortly thereafter, Hill took the snap again and ran it in for a touchdown, making it look alarmingly easy against this Falcons defense. 7-3 Saints.

Marcus Mariota found Olamide Zaccheaus for a nice gain on first down...but Zaccheaus fumbled and the Saints recovered.

The Saints had another shot to extend their lead. A first down turned into a slowdown as Jaylinn Hawkins tackled Taysom Hill and Mykal Walker stopped Alvin Kamara, setting up a longish third down. Pressure got close, Winston threw it away, and the Saints doinked the field goal attempt. Score stayed the same.

Cordarrelle Patterson and penalties got the Falcons moving on their next drive, picking up an early pair of first downs and moving the team past midfield. First quarter ended.

2nd Quarter

The Falcons picked up where they left off. Cordarrelle Patterson is just hard to stop with his speed and physicality, and he pushed the tempo on the drive and picked up considerable yardage. Avery Williams chipped in a very nice catch and long run to put the Falcons within striking distance. Patterson bulldozed, bullied, and bulled his way the rest of the way, scoring a touchdown to cap an impressive drive that was nearly all him. Falcons up 10-7.

Three and out, Saints. Evil laughter commences.

The Falcons got a first down thanks to a quick grab by Drake London and a nice run by Cordarrelle Patterson. A missed pass to Kyle Pitts (tight coverage by Marshon Lattimore) and a holding call on Jake Matthews put the team in a second and long situation, and then they picked up 11 yards. The drive did stall out, sadly. Punt.

The Falcons forced a punt because of pressure, which is a beautiful thing to type. Atlanta sacked Jameis Winston twice and forced New Orleans to give the ball back.

The Falcons got moving with plenty of help from Patterson, and they very nearly converted a critical third down in Saints territory. Kyle Pitts instead took a bit hit and it was ruled incomplete after he dropped the ball, setting up Younghoe Koo for a 50 yarder he obviously hit. 13-7.

The Saints got killed on the next drive, culminating in Grady Jarrett coming up with a massive third down sack to kill the drive. Saints punt.

Marcus Mariota found Drake London for a huge gain on first down, putting the Falcons on the edge of field goal range on first down. They ultimately pushed the envelope enough to give Koo a relative chipshot, and he converted to make it 16-7.

3rd Quarter

The Saints started with the ball, and they set about making up for lost time. They moved the ball efficiently and got inside the 30, but then stalled out thanks in part to a Mykal Walker sack on third down. Will Lutz did hit the field goal to make it 16-10 Falcons.

The Falcons laughed at that and used a crisp passing game, a timely pass interference call, effective running, and ultimately a Marcus Mariota touchdown plunge to enlarge their lead again. 23-10 Falcons.

The Saints moved the ball for a short time, but then Jameis Winston was in trouble and gave the ball to Mark Ingram, who fumbled thanks to Mykal Walker and saw the ball recovered by Rashaan Evans. Turnover.

The Falcons wasted no time in trying to extend their lead. A short Cordarrelle Patterson run was followed by a Drake London first down grab, and then the team got almost to the end zone on a Marcus Mariota scramble on third down for an easy first...but unfortunately Mariota did not slide and ultimately fumbled. The Saints picked it up, and it was a turnover.

The Saints went three and out again, with Michael Thomas slipping on a critical third down pass. Punt.

The next Falcons drive started with a penalty on Kaleb McGary, but thankfully not for long.

4th Quarter

Atlanta moved deep into Saints territory, with Mariota once again directing the offense very effectively, including on a beautiful strike to KhaDarel Hodge for an 18 yard gain. It stalled out in the red zone, however, with penalties and misses ending things and setting up a short Younghoe Koo field goal attempt. He obviously converted. 26-10 Falcons.

The Saints finally answered quickly and decisively. They scored easily on a series of strikes that eluded the Falcons’ defense, making it 26-16. A successful two point conversion attempt to Chris Olave made it 26-18. Uh oh.

Obviously Atlanta needed to chew clock, score, or both, and they were able to accomplish the second item a bit with a first down strike from Mariota to London and some time-eating runs from Patterson. Unfortunately, they were stopped a bit shy of a first down when Patterson couldn’t get the hole, but not before taking three or so minutes off the clock. Punt.

The Saints found more success, including a depressingly easy catch by Michael Thomas against the great A.J. Terrell. Thomas also found success on 2nd and 20, picking up a first down after finding a soft spot in the zone. Then Thomas found the end zone AGAIN, scoring his second touchdown to put the Falcons within two points. It appeared the collapse was in full swing, but Atlanta did stop the two point conversion. 26-24 Falcons.

Atlanta needed to keep the clock running and pick up yards, and they got a first down after a Mariota scramble and a critical Patterson first down run. With the two minute warning approaching, the Falcons fell short of a first down twice, with Mariota getting tackled for a loss on a scramble on second down. A fumbled snap by Mariota that he thankfully recovered wound up leading to a short scramble that forced a punt, and a penalty on the punt gave the Saints an extra ten yards. Winston connected with Landry for a huge gain, a penalty on Winston backed the Saints up, and then they connected for a long gain anyways. New Orleans was within field goal range. Will Lutz hit the long try to give New Orleans a one point lead, 27-26.

The Falcons couldn’t pull off the miracle, though they put themselves in a position for Younghoe Koo to try the very long attempt that was ultimately blocked. Saints win.