By Cedric Williams

The final contest of the 2015 season proved to be a fun and exciting game for the Atlanta Falcons, who were hosting the rival New Orleans Saints at the Georgia Dome. Unfortunately, the outcome wasn’t what anyone wearing red and black was looking for on Sunday. The Falcons let a thrilling second quarter rally and halftime lead slip away, as did the home team’s chances of finishing the year with a winning record.

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Atlanta didn’t exactly play poorly. In fact, the Falcons played pretty well in their final outing of the season. But, like what most of the second half of the season turned out to be, it just wasn’t good enough to produce a win. Somehow, it seems like 8-8 seasons always turn out that way.

Offense: C-

Atlanta was actually a slight bit better on offense than New Orleans was on Sunday. The Falcons outgained the Saints 419 total yards to 390. They earned more first downs (25 to 24). And they held possession of the ball for about a minute longer (30:26 to 29:34).

But even with another huge day for wideout Julio Jones (nine catches for 149 yards), a solid day for running back Devonta Freeman (81 rushing yards and a touchdown catch), and a pretty doggone good day for quarterback Matt Ryan (334 yards, two touchdowns, and a 103.2 rating), the fact is, Atlanta was held scoreless in the second half.

And it was the no points in the final 30 minutes, combined with the game-changing interception thrown by Ryan deep in his own territory with less than two minutes left, which proved to be the difference in the game. 

“(Things) got muddied inside and I didn’t see (New Orleans defensive back Jamarca Sanford) coming on the left side,” Ryan said afterward. “(It was) a bad decision on my part and a disappointing way to end the season.”

Defense: B+

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New Orleans is well known for having one of the best offenses in the league, especially over the past decade in which future Hall of Famer Drew Brees has been their quarterback. But on Sunday, the Falcons pretty much held Brees and the Saints offense in check.

The 15-year vet Brees did complete 32-of-42 passes for 323 yards, and he finished the day with a 105.6 passer rating. But the Falcons only let him reach the end zone once, and forced a turnover and a three-and-out in the Saints’ two fourth-quarter possessions prior to the one that eventually led to the game-winning field goal. That possession only came to be for New Orleans because of the previously mentioned interception, which gave the Saints the ball deep in Falcons territory with only a little over a minute left in the game.

Special Teams: C-

Atlanta’s individual specialists were all okay on Sunday. Return man Devin Hester had 73 yards on three kickoff returns, kicker Shayne Graham made a 51-yard field goal to get the Falcons on the board, and punter Matt Bosher helped back New Orleans up with the only two punts he attempted on the day.

The reason we gave the Falcons special teams such a low mark was because of the blocked field goal they allowed in the second quarter, which helped set up Atlanta’s three-point loss on Sunday. At the time, the Falcons were trying to answer a New Orleans team that had taken control of the game by scoring touchdowns on its previous two possessions, and the Saints were in a position to possibly go up big early.

Fortunately for Atlanta, they were able to keep the Saints from scoring on their next possession before putting up a touchdown of their own to take a 17-14 lead into halftime. 

Coaching: B-

The Falcons coaches clearly had the team ready to play on Sunday, and everybody seemed fired up over the chance to send head coach Dan Quinn out with a winning record in his first season as leader of the team.

Unfortunately, the same things mentioned earlier—not scoring any points in the second half and the big Matt Ryan interception late in the game—proved to be too much to overcome for a Falcon club that’s still learning how to win games.

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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 cedricwilliams510@gmail.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.