By Cedric Williams
There’s really no easy way to put it, there just wasn’t a whole lot to like about how the Atlanta Falcons played in Thursday night’s 31-21 loss to the NFC South rival New Orleans Saints.
Running back Devonta Freeman had 156 total yards and scored two touchdowns and rookie Tevin Coleman looked good in just his second game back since sitting out two in a row (and most of a third) with broken ribs. Other than that, the Falcons didn’t look anything like the potential juggernaut they appeared to be coming in their first five games of the season.
It wasn’t just one unit that didn’t play well, Atlanta looked lost at times in all phases of the game. Combine that with the Falcons going up against a New Orleans team that was looking to keeps its season, and any legitimate hopes for a possible run to the playoffs, alive; there really is no surprise that Atlanta’s worst performance of the season came Thursday night at the Louisiana Superdome.
The stat totals look nice. Atlanta picked up 23 first downs and gained 413 total yards on Thursday, but a series of major blunders in the first half ruined just about any shot the Falcons had at turning in another high-grade night on offense. Those blunders include two red zone fumbles, a fumble by quarterback Matt Ryan on a 4th-and-1 play on Atlanta’s first drive (after New Orleans had gone right down the field on the opening series of the game to take the early lead) and another Ryan fumble late in the fourth quarter where a Saints’ defender just took the ball right out of his hand.
The one upside was the production of the running backs, Freeman and Coleman, who combined for 140 yards on just 17 carries (an 8.3 yards/carry average), but that didn’t really factor into the game much because New Orleans just played so much better in every other aspect of the game.
After a first half, more specifically a terrific second quarter by the Atlanta defense that was essentially keeping the club in the game, the Falcons D was just abysmal in the second half. Reason for that seemed to be simple, the Falcons just couldn’t stop the Saints defense in the second half.
Atlanta’s defense just got carved up by Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who completed 30-of-39 passes for 312 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions, and a 108.1 passer rating. Brees led his club on three straight scoring drives to begin the second half, which allowed New Orleans to turn a 14-7 halftime lead into 31-14 bulge midway through the fourth quarter. There were also two dropped potential interceptions and two personal foul penalties called on the Atlanta defense that didn’t make things any easier.
Special Teams: F
On a night when the Falcons gave up a blocked punt for a touchdown, on an eerily similar play to the Steve Gleason play from years ago that the Saints just happened to be honoring at the Superdome Thursday night, it would be hard to find any grade other than a failing one for the visitors. This game-changing blocked punt occurred so quickly because no one blocked or even got in the way New Orleans’ Mike Mauti, which allowed the third-year man from Penn State to knock the ball away from Falcons punter Matt Bosher before he could even kick it.
The slow start in the first half and difficulty in adjusting to New Orleans’ counter moves coming out of the locker room at halftime are why we gave such low marks to Atlanta’s coaches. The Falcons didn’t look like a team ready to play football when the game started. They made mistake after uncharacteristic mistake during the game that showed without a doubt, even if he was for just one game, that the Atlanta football team had lost its focus and concentration. That’s on the coach and his assistants for not having the Falcons better prepared to play their first nationally-televised game since the season opener on September 14.
Atlanta will now get 10 days to rest and recover from Thursday night, before it will head back out on the road for an October 25 matchup against the Tennessee Titans. Tennessee is 1-3 with three straight losses after winning its season opener against Tampa Bay. Will the Falcons get back to their winning ways?
Cedric Williams, a lifelong St. Louisan and proud UMSL alum, has been a full-time reporter/photographer covering St. Louis area sports for nearly two decades. Most recently, he has been working as a credentialed beat writer covering the NFL, as well as college and high school sports for the St. Louis American, Patch.com, and other outlets from around the area. Please share any comments, questions, or feedback with Cedric at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work can be found on Examiner.com.