By Matthew Asher
It was bound to happen. After starting out the season 8-0 (the previous franchise record was 4-0) the Atlanta Falcons finally have one in the loss column and it came at the hands of their NFC South rival New Orleans Saints.
The Saints may now be 4-5 following the 31-27 victory, but don’t think that this was an upset. This is one of those games where the stats really do tell the story of the game: a battle between two high-powered offenses. The Falcons and Saints combined for 894 total yards of offense, 46 first downs and 58 points.
Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez each get an A. Matt Ryan showed he deserves to be in the same elite league as Drew Brees. The quarterbacks combined for 709 passing yards with each throwing three touchdowns and one interception. Ryan actually threw for 113 more yards than Brees, setting a new career high for passing yards in a game.
Yes, Matt Ryan didn’t lead the Falcons in another fourth quarter comeback, but it wasn’t because he played poorly. Ask anyone if they would like their quarterback to throw for more than 400 yards, three touchdowns and just one interception and I doubt you’d have too many people saying no.
Roddy White again eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark for the fourth time this season. He caught seven passes for 114 yards but no touchdowns. While Roddy had a good game, it was Atlanta’s inability to score a crucial touchdown on fourth down inside the 5-yard line.
Still, White doesn’t believe the score is a representative of the better team. “It’s not like they came out here and won a game today,” Roddy said. “I think we kind of gave it to them. … We play them in three weeks (Nov. 29) and we’ll be ready.”
If anyone deserves the game ball with the Falcons, it would be Tony Gonzalez. Why? Not only did Tony pull down a game-leading 11 receptions for 122 yards, but his two touchdowns gave him career touchdowns 100 and 101. He is the first tight end to ever get 100 receiving touchdowns and leapfrogged both Tim Brown and Steve Largent (the first to record 100 TD’s) for sole possession of sixth place. Congratulations Tony.
Atlanta’s rushing defense gets a C. Atlanta’s defense knew their main job would be to limit Drew Brees’ passing attack. In that regard, they succeeded. Through their first eight games, New Orleans averaged 305.8 yards in the air, the second most in the league. Brees was limited to less than 300 yards. However, it appears as though Atlanta forgot to stop the run.
Coming into the game, the Saints had the third worst rushing attack in the league, averaging a paultry 81 yards per contest. Atlanta gave up 149 yards on 28 carries, allowing the Saints to average 5.3 yards per carry. For the record, this is not including the final play of the game when Brees took a knee, otherwise the average drops to 5.1 yards. Either way, it’s a terrible average.
Atlanta’s running game, specifically Michael Turner, gets a D. The only reason Turner and company do not get an F is because they didn’t fumble the ball. Otherwise, they were awful. On 18 attempts, the Falcons only gained 46 yards on the ground. Turner was the absolute low point. His 13 rushes for just 15 yards including losing yardage with the ball inside New Orleans 5-yard line is simply unacceptable. Atlanta averaged 98.5 yards in their first eight contests. They couldn’t even get half that number against the worst rushing defense which allows 176.5 yards on the ground each game.
Now that the pressure of finishing the season undefeated is over, Atlanta will return to the Georgia Dome November 18 to face the Arizona Cardinals hopefully starting off another long winning streak. Kickoff is 1pm EST.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.