After a summer of dampened expectations, pleas from fans to tank for Alabama’s Bryce Young or Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, plus a hype video performed by “Andre Coleman” that created no excitement and more controversy, the Atlanta Falcons faced off against the New Orleans Saints inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the renewal of the NFL’s pettiest rivalry! To say this football game was “a game of two halves,” would be appropriate. The Falcons ended up falling 27-26 in heartbreaking fashion. This week’s report card will reflect that.
In the first half, the Falcons averaged 6.3 yards per carry as they worked to establish the running game. Cordarrelle Patterson had 83 rushing yards and a touchdown in the first thirty minutes. Atlanta utilized motions and misdirection plays to confuse the Saints’ defense. Also, out of Atlanta’s 13 first downs in the first half, nine of them came from the rushing attack.
Wide receiver Drake London had 5 catches for 74 yards.
“I thought he had a great game,” Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota said of London’s performance. “For us, it’s no surprise. We’ve seen that throughout camp, we’ve seen that in OTAs, so I think it’s a great stepping stone but that’s expectation. That’s the standard we’re going to hold him to.”
However, after kicker Younhoe Koo converted a 45-yard field goal attempt with 12:45 left in the fourth quarter which put Atlanta up 26-10, it would be the last time the Falcons would score in the game. After that, the next four Atlanta possessions ended like this: punt, punt, punt, blocked field goal.
The pivotal play in the fourth quarter was third and three for the Falcons on their 49 yard line, while leading 26-10. Patterson was unable to get the first down and were forced to punt. The Saints would take the ball on their ensuing possession and score a touchdown.
On third and one with 1:40 remaining in the game, the Falcons were unable to get the first down and effectively run out the clock. Mariota fumbled the snap and couldn’t salvage the play. Atlanta was forced to punt and New Orleans drove down the field for a game winning field goal by Georgia State alum Wil Lutz.
All totaled, the Falcons only gained 96 yards in the fourth quarter.
The first half saw the Falcons hold Saints quarterback Jameis Winston to 24 passing yards on five-of-ten passing. Also, Lorenzo Carter, Grady Jarrett, and the Atlanta defensive line made Winston run for his life. Besides the 57 yard run by Saints all-purpose player Taysom Hill, the Saints only had 47 yards of offense in the first half. That performance answered all of the questions that hung over the defense all spring and summer: Can the Falcons get pass rush, can they stop the run and can they limit big plays?
Sunday, the Falcons sacked Winston four times. In the 2021 season, the Falcons defense only had 17 sacks. That was the worst in the National Football League.
In the fourth quarter, all of that goodwill went out of the window.
Eight of the Saints’ ten longest plays of the game took happened in the fourth quarter. Here were the key moments.
- Winston hooked up with Jarvis Landry on plays of 31 and 40 yards respectively.
- Winston pass deep right to JuWan Johnson on a 26 yard pass play.
- Winston pass deep left to Michael Thomas for 21 yards.
- Winston pass deep right to Chris Olave on a 20 yard catch and run.
- Winston pass deep middle to Thomas that went for 20 yards.
- Winston pass deep middle to Johnson that went for 17 yards.
Winston finished the afternoon 23/39 for 264 yards and two touchdowns. Michael Thomas had a monstrous second half performance with five catches, 57 yards and two touchdowns. Jarvis Landry had 7 receptions and 114 yards. The Saints opened up the playbook and attacked the Falcons secondary down the field. While the time and score forced New Orleans to attack Atlanta down the field, the Saints offensive line stepped up and gave Winston time and allowed those routes to develop.
The Saints totaled 385 yards of offense, with 213 yards in the fourth quarter.
Special Teams: B
Younghoe Koo went four-of-five on his field goal attempts. He also nailed two field goal attempts from 50 and 54 yards respectively. Punter Bradley Pinion averaged 45 yards on his four punts Sunday afternoon while also pinning the Saints inside their 20-yard line twice. The desperation 63-yard field goal to win the game at the gun was blocked.
It was a tale of two halves. Atlanta was able to dictate tempo with their brand of complimentary smashmouth football in the first half. However, in the second half, the Saints were able to dial up better protections for Winston and the Falcons defensive line weren’t able to get home.
“Write whatever y’all want. You guys ranked us 45th. You buried us in May. Bury us again. We don’t care. We’ll get back to work,” Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said. “If we have the right mindset we will improve from this and become a better team.”
Next Sunday, the Falcons will face off against the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.