The Atlanta Falcons needed this one. While fans wrestled with whether to root for the Falcons with a change to the coaching staff possible, the team badly needed a win to try to stay alive in the playoff hunt and potentially save Arthur Smith’s job. The urgency was there early, but it was not there throughout.
After heading into the half tied despite plenty of defensive miscues and a couple of misses on offense, things turned sour in the third quarter. Desmond Ridder threw a bad pick, nearly threw another third down pick on the next drive, and the Saints found it easy to move along and score twice, running up a 14 point lead. Things got worse from there, with a miscommunication leading to a fumbled snap, a productive Falcons drive ending in zero points, and the Saints finding scoring easy. It ended up being the second straight nightmare rout for a Falcons team that could not have more fully inhabited the late season collapse if they had tried.
Just like that, any positivity had been squeezed out of the final game of the season, and if Arthur Blank could be moved off his desire to keep Smith, the game probably did it. It’s the third straight 7-10 straight for the Falcons, and the sixth straight season where we’re left with disappointment and plenty of losses where we hoped we might actually enjoy something more.
It was a fitting end to a season that delivered disappointment far more often than it gave us joy, and it’s likely to lead to major changes, which will be welcome. Here’s a drive-by-drive recap of the game you just watched.
The Falcons won the toss and elected to defer, with a touchback on the opening kickoff. A quick screen to Taysom Hill picked up an early first down. Derek Carr then hit Jamaal Williams for about five yards. Williams was then taken down after a minimal gain by David Onyemata. On third down, Carr’s pass was fumbled and recovered by the Saints thanks to a blistering effort by Bud Dupree. That led to a Saints punt, and the Falcons got it inside the 25.
Bijan Robinson took a delayed handoff and lost a yard. On second down, Desmond Ridder checked down to Robinson and he picked up about seven yards. Scotty Miller got wide open down the sideline and Ridder hit him for a huge gain, putting them at about the 20 yard line. Ridder then rolled out and hit Drake London for about nine yards. Robinson then cut it inside to pick up close to eight yards. However, a 15 yard penalty on MyCole Pruitt for a headbutt backed the Falcons up, but they did have a first down. Tyler Allgeier picked up about three yards on first down, and then Ridder looked like he wanted to run it and elected to throw it once Jonnu Smith got open in the end zone. 7-0 Falcons.
A false start kicked things off for New Orleans. Taysom Hill was then dropped by Ta’Quon Graham after a short gain. Unfortunately, Rashid Shaheed was wide open on the next play about 20 yards downfield for Carr to find, and Clark Phillips was penalized for unnecessary roughness for another 15 yards. Williams then took it three yards, and then Hill kept it and ran for a first down. Kendre Miller then took it for nine yards, and then Hill caught it for about four yards and a first down. A.T. Perry then caught a touchdown pass working against A.J. Terrell. 7-7 tie.
Robinson took it for about five yards on first down. On second down, Ridder was able to fire it past a running defender’s hands to Robinson, and Robinson housed it with absolutely nobody in his way the entire way down the field. 14-7 Falcons.
A quick five yards and then Hill ran for a first down. Then Carr hit Williams for three yards, and then his low pass to Shaheed was incomplete. On third down, though, Carr hit Chris Olave for a first down. Williams was dropped for no gain by Nate Landman. Then Carr hit Hill for eight yards on second down, and then Williams got the first down.
Carr got away from pressure to get a couple of yards on a completion to a man I have never heard of. The run was stopped on second down, and then on 3rd and 8, he hit Hill but Richie Grant delivered a big hit to stop him a couple of yards short of a first down. On fourth down, the Saints went for it and got a first down to Juwan Johnson. Then Carr kept it and ran for about six yards. Williams then picked up a first down on the ground. Williams was swallowed up for no gain on first down. Miller then kept it and somehow got away from defenders who had him dead to rights, getting to the one yard line. The Saints challenged it, and it was ruled a touchdown. 14-14 tie.
Cordarrelle Patterson picked up about four yards on first down, and then Robinson did a nice job of picking up five yards after getting hit. A holding call backed Atlanta up, and a checkdown pass to Robinson got the Falcons to about 3rd and 11. Ridder hit Jonnu Smith for about six yards, but Atlanta had to punt and the Saints got it about the 20 yard line.
Miller ran for a first down. Hill tried to tuck it and run, but Calais Campbell tripped him up. Unfortunately, Carr hit Olave for 16 yards on second down. Landman tackled Miller for a loss of two yards on first down, and then Andre Smith Jr. got a tackle after about six yards on a short pass. On third and 6, the Saints picked up a yard or two on the ground. They elected to punt.
Allgeier took it for a yard on first down. Ridder then kept it and tried to run, but Jonnu Smith basically blocked the defender into the quarterback. Robinson then took it about three yards and the Falcons had to punt. A terrible punt by Bradley Pinion set the Saints up with favorable field position.
Two yards on first down for the Saints was followed by a neutral zone infraction on LaCale London to give the Saints five yards. That took us into the two minute warning. Following that, Carr hit Johnson for a first down. Calais Campbell was hit with a neutral zone infraction on the next play. Then Carr went too high and didn’t come close his receiver on a rainbow ball. Then Miller took a delayed handoff for a first down. Shaheed then caught it for six yards working against Terrell, who appeared to trip again. Carr got away from pressure and tried the end zone, but it was well-covered by Clark Phillips. Hill then kept it and was caught by Campbell for a loss, setting up a short field goal try. 17-14 Saints.
Ridder’s first down pass was too low to be caught, marking his first incompletion of the day. Ridder then looked down the sideline and hit Kyle Pitts for a big gain, and then he hit Robinson again for seven yards. Ridder then tried London down the sideline, but tight coverage helpe ensure the pass was not complete. On third down, MyCole Pruitt caught the pass and rumbled a bit for a 16 yard gain. Ridder then hit Robinson again for about five yards, and Robinson got out of bounds. Ridder got Van Jefferson over the middle for a first down. Robinson was the target again for about a four yard gain. Ridder got Jefferson again for about four yards, setting up the field goal try. Koo banged the 30 yarder home. 17-17.
Allgeier took a delayed screen and went nowhere, and then Robinson took an outside handoff and picked up a couple of yards. Then Ridder threw a bad interception to a Saints cornerback.
The first down run went nowhere, but then a bobbled rainbow ball to Olave was somehow reeled in for a touchdown despite Phillips being in his jersey. 24-17.
Robinson got about three yards on first down, and then Patterson took it for a tough run to pick up six more. Ridder then went deep to London, but the pass was nearly intercepted and broken up. The Falcons elected to punt.
Miller broke about a 15 yard run on first down. Then he got about three yards before Carr hit Juwan Johnson for a first down, with Miller getting nowhere on first down. On the next play, Carr hit Shaheed for a 39 yard touchdown bomb. 31-17 Saints.
Ridder found London for about nine yards on first down, and then Allgeier picked up about six yards. Robinson picked up about three yards on first down, and then an incompletion followed. Ridder then threw one of his better balls of the day, right over a leaping defender to London down the sideline for 21 yards. Robinson then got a yard, and then Ridder hit Jonnu for eight yards to set up a 3rd and 1. A pitch to Robinson went for about seven yards and a first down. and then a quick hitter to Allgeier went for six yards. A short pass to Robinson then went for a first down thanks to Robinson. Patterson then got past a couple of defenders to bring it about the two yard line. An inside pitch to London nearly got a touchdown, but he was stopped just shy of the goal line. Patterson was stopped again decisively by the Saints defense, however, setting up a 4th and goal try. Ridder tried Robinson in the end zone but the pass was behind the back and fell incomplete. Turnover on downs.
Williams took it for a yard or two on first down. Carr threw it away on second down with pressure coming and deep in his own end zone. Then he hit Perry for a 28 yard gain working against Phillips.
Taysom Hill then kept it and ran for a million yards. A quick pass to Foster Moreau picked up about five yards. Then Miller picked up a first down. Then Taysom Hill kept it again (surprise) for five yards, and then Williams got a first down. Miller picked up three yards, and then Williams took it about five more yards. On third down, Carr threw it out of the back of the end zone to end the drive with a field goal try. 34-17 Saints.
Ridder hit Pitts for seven yards on first down. Robinson took it for a mile, but a holding call on Atlanta undid that work. Ridder fumbled the snap, tried to fall on it, and couldn’t get it, with the Saints recovering.
Phillips was flagged for pass interference working against Perry in the end zone. The Saints then were hit with a false start, but then Carr hit Perry again for another touchdown. 41-17 Saints.
Patterson took it for a few yards on first down. Then Ridder’s throw was high on second down, and then London couldn’t reel in the third down grab despite it hitting him in the hands. The Falcons punted.
An incompletion on first down for the Saints. A quick pass went for a couple of yards. and the short pass on third down went nowhere and an offensive pass interference forced a punt. The Saints tried to get the Falcons to jump and got an offsides instead. Punt.
Logan Woodside came in for Ridder in the blowout. A sack and a false start were followed by a one yard gain and then a few yards from Allgeier. Punt.
A handoff for a couple of yards. The next play, the Saints fumbled and the Falcons recovered. Then Richie Grant came flying in for a sack and took Carr down for a big loss. Punt.
John FitzPatrick catch for a first down, and then Woodsides scrambled for about eight yards. Woodside then hit Allgeier for a first down. Then Woodside threw an interception to Mathieu, who returned it to the one yard line but may have been hurt on the play. Man, was that a fitting play.
The Saints ran it in for yet another touchdown. 48-17.
A yard on a run, but honestly, who cares. The Falcons kept running with Allgeier to move it along and keep the clock running, and then things were over.