Brees lifts Saints over Falcons

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Brees celebrates a touchdown

The Falcons lost a heartbreaker to the New Orleans Saints 17-14, their first home loss since in Week 14 of the 2009 season, and their first home loss since with Matt Ryan as a starter since November 16, 2008. The Falcons are now forced to win in the season finale vs. the Carolina Panthers in order to clinch their No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs and the NFC South division crown.

Matt Ryan led a tough offensive effort, completing 15 of 29 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons got little going on the ground, with Michael Turner rushed for 48 yards on 17 carries. Ryan added 26 yards on 4 carries. Michael Jenkins led the receivers with 5 catches for 40 yards. Roddy White caught 4 passes for 43 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons offense struggled on third downs, only converting 3 of 12 attempts. Their 215 total offensive yards was the lowest output of the Falcons offense since December 16, 2007.

This was a defensive battle between both teams. Only one first down was gained between the two teams on each of their first two possessions. The Saints got their first points on the board on their third offensive series with a 52-yard field goal from Garrett Hartley. On the very next series at the start of the second quarter, Todd McClure botched a snap which led to the Saints getting the ball back in Falcons territory. Five plays later, Pierre Thomas marched in from 2 yards to get a touchdown, taking the Saints lead to 10-0. But the Falcons were able to counter on their next series with an 8-play, 78-yard drive helped by a 27-yard run by Turner and several Saints penalties. Ryan hit White from 7 yards for six to cut the Saints lead to 10-7 which carried over into halftime. The Falcons were impressive on their opening drive in the second half, going 80 uyards down the field thanks in large part by a pass interference on Tracy Porter against Michael Jenkins giving the Falcons the ball at the Saints 1-yard line. But two plays later, Michael Turner fumbled, preventing the Falcons from taking their first lead of the ballgame. Both teams traded unsuccessful possessions until the end of the third quarter. But at the start of the fourth quarter, Jonathan Babineaux pressured Drew Brees, who flipped an errant ball into the waiting hands of Chauncey Davis who return it 26 yard for a touchdown. On the ensuing series, Brees had another pass intercepted on a tipped pass from John Abraham, but the Falcons were unable to take advantage to stretch their lead. The Saints rebounded with a 13-play, 90-yard drive to take back their lead 17-14 with 3:24 to go in the game. The Falcons got the ball back, but were unable to convert and punted with 2:52 left on the clock. On the very next play, Brees hit tight end Jimmy Graham on a 7-yard throw, but he fumbled. But the refs reviewed the play and rightly ruled Graham down by contact, reversing the call. Two plays later the Saints converted a first down with 2 minutes on the clock, sealing their victory.

The two forced turnovers was what got the Falcons back into the game, but they were unable to shut down Brees completely in the fourth quarter giving up the 90-play drive. But otherwise the defense had a solid game, limiting the Saints to 17 points. Curtis Lofton led defenders with 11 tackles. John Abraham (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception), Kroy Biermann (3 tackles), Chauncey Davis (2 tackle, 1 interception, 1 touchdown), Thomas Decoud (9 tackles), Brent Grimes (5 tackles), William Moore (5 tackles), MIke Peterson (4 tackles), and Dunta Robinson (8 tackles) had notable games.

On special teams, Michael Koenen punted 8 times for an average of 39.9 yards with 2 punts placed inside the 20-yard line. Eric Weems returned 2 kickoffs for an average of 13 yards and 2 punts for a 3-yard average.

The Falcons wrap up the season at home against the Carolina Panthers, who they beat three weeks ago 31-10. A win will give the Falcons a 13-3 finish and home field advantage in the playoffs as the top-seeded team. It will make the first division crown under Mike Smith and their first since 2004. The Panthers sport the league’s worst record at 2-13 and are winless on the road this season. The Falcons home record under Matt Ryan moves to 19-2, and it marks their first home loss this season.

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