Falcons Drop First Game of 2015 in 31-21 Loss to Saints

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY SportsCameron Jordan strips Matt Ryan on one of five Saints sacks

The Atlanta Falcons saw their five-game win streak snapped by NFC South divisional rival the New Orleans Saints in a 31-21 loss on the road on Thursday Night Football. The story of the game centers on the multiple missed opportunities of the Falcons in the game, with three turnovers and three stalled drives while in scoring position in Saints territory.

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Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan finished with three sacks

Matt Ryan bounced back from a rough performance a week ago, but was under fire throughout the night as he was sacked five times. He finished the game completing 30 of 44 passes for 295 yards with a pair of touchdowns.

The Falcons were successful on the ground throughout the game, but were stuck playing from behind. Devonta Freeman led the team with 100 yards on 13 carries and also scored on a 25-yard touchdown. Tevin Coleman added 40 yards on four rushing attempts.

In the air, Freeman led the team with eight receptions for 56 yards and another touchdown. Julio Jones led the team in receiving yards with 93 on six receptions. Roddy White snagged his first touchdown pass of the season, finishing the game with three catches for 23 yards. Leonard Hankerson was plagued by drops, but also added four receptions for 37 yards.

Matt Bryant did not attempt a field goal. Matt Bosher punted three times for an average of 41.3 yards with no punts placed inside the 20-yard line. Bosher had a punt blocked and recovered by Saints linebacker Michael Mauti for a touchdown. Eric Weems returned two punts for 21 yards, while Patrick DiMarco fielded the team’s lone kickoff return for 19 yards.

The Falcons finished the game with 413 total yards, but struggled to sustain drives as they only converted three of 12 third-down attempts.

Defensively, the Saints generated 385 yards of total offense and were able to successfully convert half of their 16 third-down attempts. The Falcons defense was tough against the run, allowing just 18 rushing yards in the first half before letting up 63 more in the second half.

Linebacker Paul Worrilow led the team with nine tackles and a quarterback hit. Robert Alford (five tackles), Ricardo Allen (five tackles, one pass deflection), Jonathan Babineaux (one tackle, one tackle for loss), Joplo Bartu (five tackles, one tackle for loss, one pass deflection), Vic Beasley (three tackles), Kroy Biermann (six tackles), Adrian Clayborn (two tackles, one sack), Ra’Shede Hageman (three tackles, one quarterback hit), Kemal Ishmael (three tackles), Tyson Jackson (four tackles), William Moore (six tackles), Robenson Therezie (seven tackles) and Desmond Trufant (one tackle) had noteworthy games.

The Saints received the opening kickoff from Bosher, which was a touchback. On the second play from scrimmage, quarterback Drew Brees’ pass to Willie Snead off play action over the middle was broken up by Bartu when he and a teammate converged on the receiver before he could secure it after the catch. On the following play on 3rd-and-6, Brees was able to escape the pocket and avoid edge pressure from O’Brien Schofield to find open tight end Josh Hill over the middle for a 12-yard gain. Brees then connected with his other tight end Watson over the middle once more for an eight-yard gain. The Saints tried again to hit Watson with a rollout from Brees, but the Saints quarterback overthrew his receiver to set up a 3rd-and-2. The Saints converted once more thanks to a clean pocket giving Brees the time to find Hill for a 19-yard gain to get the ball into Falcons territory. Running back C.J. Spiller broke a tackle on a run up the middle to gain seven additional yards on the next play. On that play, Saints rookie left tackle Andrus Peat went down with a leg injury and was replaced by third-string left tackle Tony Hills. The Saints handed the ball off to running back Mark Ingram on the next two plays, the latter of which being a one-yard conversion on 3rd-and-1 to give the Saints a new set of downs at the Falcons 27-yard line. Two plays later, Vic Beasley was able to get past Hills to nearly sack Brees, but the veteran quarterback stepped up in the pocket and found an open Willie Snead in a soft spot of the zone for a 24-yard gain, getting the ball down to the two-yard line. On the next play, Ingram cut back on a goal line run up the middle, powering through linebacker Nate Stupar’s tackle for a two-yard score. That gave the Saints a 7-0 lead with 9:44 left in the first half after a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive.

After DiMarco returned Zach Hocker’s squib kick 19 yards, the Falcons began their first series at their 27-yard line. Ryan’s first pass was a rollout to Jones, which went through the receiver’s hands for a drop. However Jones slipped behind defenders down the seam on the next play to get a 30-yard gain and put the ball into Saints territory. Freeman was then stuffed in the backfield for a four-yard loss, but right tackle Ryan Schraeder was called for a hold, backing the team up 10 yards anyway. A pair of short passes to Freeman gained a combined 16 yards on the next two plays to set up a manageable 3rd-and-4. Freeman picked his way through traffic on his third-down run up the middle, getting stopped by Saints linebacker Dannell Ellerbe a yard shy of the sticks. The Falcons opted to go for it on 4th-and-1 at the Saints 34-yard line, however Ryan’s attempt to hand the ball off to Freeman was knocked out of his hands by DiMarco as he tried to hit the hole as a lead blocker. Ryan was able to fall on the loose ball, but the Falcons were unable to convert on fourth down, giving the Saints the ball back at their 39-yard line with 6:08 left on the first-quarter clock.

The Saints offense did little with the ensuing offensive possession, getting stopped for a three-and-out. Worrilow made a nice stop on a Spiller run up the middle to force a 3rd-and-4. Clayborn showed good burst on the third down, tripping up Ingram just after he took the hand off for a one-yard gain and forcing the Saints to punt.

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Saints LB Michael Mauti blocked a punt and scored a touchdown

Ryan’s first pass on the ensuing drive was to DiMarco in the flat for a six-yard gain. Two plays later on 3rd-and-3, pressure from defensive end Cameron Jordan flushed Ryan out of the pocket before he was tracked down by outside linebacker Kasim Edebali for a sack and a loss of 11 yards. That pushed the Falcons back to their 16-yard line. Then Mauti burst up the middle, getting past long snapper Josh Harris and Eric Weems to block Bosher’s punt at the four-yard line, and fell on the loose ball in the end zone for a score. The Saints now held a 14-0 lead with 2:06 left in the first quarter.

Jones was able to settle in between the zone and get some yardage after the catch on first down for a 23-yard gain to start the next Falcons drive off favorably. Freeman then gained six yards on the next play before Ryan hit White on a play-action rollout for eight yards to start a new set of downs in Saints territory. Two plays later Coleman found daylight on a run up the middle, gaining 18 yards. On the final play of the first quarter, Ryan hit tight end Jacob Tamme in the flat for a six-yard gain to put the Falcons in the red zone for the first time on the night. To start the second quarter, Ryan connected with Hankerson over the middle for a 12-yard gain. Ryan’s next pass to Jones on an out pattern was nearly picked off by Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux. But Ryan connected on the next play, finding an open White on a crossing pattern in the back corner of the end zone for a seven-yard score to put the Falcons on the scoreboard for the first time with 14:12 left in the second quarter. The Falcons cut the Saints’ lead to 14-7 with a nine-play, 80-yard scoring drive.

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Roddy White (left) and Julio Jones celebrate his first touchdown catch of 2015.

Brees connected on his first two passes of the ensuing series, with the latter pass being a four-yard throw to Watson on a rollout which converted a first down. Two plays later, running back Khiry Robinson outran the Falcons defense for an 18-yard gain on a short throw, putting the ball at midfield. Grady Jarrett did an excellent job shooting upfield on the next play, blowing up the run to Robinson and leading to an eight-yard loss. Brees hit wide receiver Brandin Cooks on a shallow checkdown over the middle for a 12-yard gain, but Dan Quinn challenged the low throw, suspecting that the ball hit the turf before Cooks secured it. His challenge was correct and the officials reversed the call, forcing the Saints into a 3rd-and-18 rather than a more manageable 3rd-and-6. Their checkdown to Spiller went nowhere on a one-yard gain and the Saints were forced to punt the ball back to the Falcons with 10:18 on the second-quarter clock.

Freeman found a hole up on the middle on the second play from scrimmage on the ensuing Falcons down for a nine-yard gain. Then Ryan connected on his next two passes to tight end Levine Toilolo for gains of 11 and seven yards, respectively, putting the ball deep into Saints territory at the 30-yard line. Coleman got in on the act, rushing for four yards on first down, which was followed by a 17-yard run on the next play. Unfortunately, Saints cornerback Brandon Browner and Ellerbe converged on the rookie running back at the end of his run and jarred the ball loose. Browner jumped on the loose ball and the Saints took over at their nine-yard line. It marked the second time the Falcons had driven deep into Saints territory on the night and wound up with no points.

The Saints did little with their next possession, thanks to Bartu stuffing a one-yard run by Ingram on second down before Tyson Jackson busted up another for no gain on 3rd-and-1.

The Falcons took over after the Saints punt at their 26-yard line with 5:29 left in the first half. Ryan’s first pass was into the flat to DiMarco, who lowered his shoulder after the catch to deliver a blow to outside linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha on a 12-yard gain. Ryan took a deep shot to White over the middle on the next play, but overthrew the receiver. Freeman then found a gapin hole off the left side for a 12-yard gain to get the ball to midfield. A play-action pass to Jones then added 15 more yards on the next play, before Freeman found more daylight off the left side on a 19-yard run to put the Falcons right back into the red zone at the Saints 16-yard line. However a false start by left guard Andy Levitre on the next play backed the Falcons up. On 2nd-and-14, Ryan hit Tamme over the middle for a six-yard gain to make it a more manageable 3rd-and-8 just as the two-minute warning hit. However center James Stone’s shotgun snap deflected off his backside and Ellerbe jumped on the loose ball. Once again the Falcons offense stalled deep in Saints territory.

The Saints took over with 1:54 left on the second-quarter clock at their 17-yard line. Babineaux was able to sniff out a screen to Ingram for a two-yard loss, as the Falcons called their first timeout of the half to stop the clock. Ishmael and Worrilow then converged on a short pass to Ingram to stuff him for a five-yard gain, followed by another Falcons timeout to stop the clock with 1:44 left in the half. The Falcons blitzed on 3rd-and-7 and Worrilow was able to deliver a hit on Brees but the Saints passer was able to stand in the face of the pressure and deliver a strike to Watson over the middle for 20 yards. However a false start by Tony Hills stopped the clock with 1:22 left in the second quarter. Brees then dialed up Watson again, who beat Therezie with a leaping 16-yard grab over the middle to get the ball near midfield. Watson then came up big again on the next play, streaking past Ishmael on a crossing route for a 28-yard to get the ball into Falcons territory. The Falcons pass rush showed up on the next play as Clayborn was able to deliver a big hit on Brees’ blindside, pushing the Saints back eight yards as the Saints called their second timeout with 1:02 on the clock. The Saints tried a screen to Watson on the next play, but Worrilow and Babineaux were there to get the stop after three yards to set up a 3rd-and-15. Brees found a wide open Watson over the middle, but the tight end couldn’t climb the ladder to make the leaping grab, forcing the Saints to settle for a 51-yard field goal from Hocker. The Saints kicker pushed the kick wide right and the Falcons took over with 16 seconds left at their 41-yard line.

Ryan hit Hankerson over the middle for nine yards before the Falcons called their final timeout of the first half with 10 seconds left. Ryan then hit Freeman on an underneath throw, but Saints linebacker Ramon Humber delivered a hit to pop the ball out of his hands and incomplete with just four seconds left. After a high snap from Stone, Ryan was able to avoid pressure from multiple Saints defenders but wound up scrambling for a five-yard gain on the final play of the half.

The Falcons received the kick to start the second half, and Ryan dialed up his favorite receiver in Jones on the first play with a five-yard completion on an out pattern. Ryan held onto the ball too long on the next play before being hit by Saints defensive tackle John Jenkins. However Ryan was able to get rid of the ball before taking the sack, finding an open Freeman in the flat for a loss of two yards. On the ensuing 3rd-and-7, the Falcons managed to convert just their second third down of the game as Ryan found an open Nick Williams down the sideline for an 11-yard gain. After a five-yard run by Freeman, the Falcons were pushed back 10 yards thanks to a holding call against right guard Chris Chester. Ryan then overthrew Toilolo deep down the seam on 2nd-and-15. On the ensuing 3rd-and-15, the Falcons couldn’t convert as Ryan found Terron Ward in the flat for a mere seven-yard gain before Bosher punted again.

Watson continued to exploit the Falcons defense on the first play of the ensuing Saints series, getting past Worrilow for a 22-yard gain and the Saints already had the ball in Falcons territory. Brees connected on his next two passes, with the latter being an eight-yard throw to Cooks in the flat that converted a 3rd-and-5. Brees tried to dial up Spiller down the field but the running back couldn’t reel in the pass along the sideline. But on the next playSpiller did catch a ball in the flat for a five-yard gain to set up a 3rd-and-5. Once again, Brees found Spiller for an eight-yard gain to give the Saints a new set of downs at the Falcons 21-yard line. Hill dropped Brees’ next pass, which was followed by the quarterback scrambling for three yards. Then on 3rd-and-7, Worrilow clamped down on Ingram, stopping him after a five-yard gain to force another Hocker field goal. This time the kicker hit it from 31 yards, pushing the Saints lead to 17-7 with 7:19 left in the third quarter.

The Falcons did little with their next possession. After a two-yard gain by Freeman on the edge, Saints linebacker Stephone Anthony was able to break up a throw to DiMarco over the middle. Pressure then forced Ryan up in the pocket where Edebali was able to deflect the pass, forcing a Falcons three-and-out and punt.

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Saints TE Ben Watson snagged an easy touchdown pass

On second down, Brees connected with Snead for a 19-yard gain as the Saints receiver once again settled into a soft spot of the Falcons zone. Two plays later, Watson gained 17 yards by beating Moore on an out pattern, putting the ball at the Falcons 18-yard line. Two plays later, Robinson was able to convert another first down on a run up the middle for five yards, putting the ball at the six-yard line. Brooks Reed was able to get pressure on the next play forcing Brees to throw it away into the turf. Hageman then collapsed down to swallow up Spiller on a two-yard gain to force a 3rd-and-goal from the four-yard line. Brees escaped the pocket and found wide receiver Brandon Coleman in the end zone, but Trufant was draped all over the receiver and helped break up the touchdown. The Saints opted to go for it on 4th-and-goal and Hageman along with other Falcons defenders were drawn offsides. The Saints sucked up the Falcons defenders on play action on the next play, leaving Watson wide open in the end zone for an easy, two-yard touchdown catch. The Saints led was now 24-7 with 2:23 left on the third-quarter clock after a 10-play, 63-yard scoring drive.

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Devonta Freeman hurdles Saints safety Jairus Byrd on his 25-yard touchdown run

To start the Falcons final drive of the third quarter, Hankerson made a nice grab over the middle for eight yards before he dropped a pass to set up a 3rd-and-2. Ryan was able to avoid pressure, running around in the pocket before eventually decided to scramble for the first down. The Falcons quarterback converted after a five-yard gain. Freeman then gained 13 yards on a draw play before adding five yards on another run. Then on the final play of the third quarter on what appeared to be a broken play, Ryan pitched the ball to Freeman, who was yanked down by Jordan for a five-yard loss. It appeared to be a horse-collar tackle, but the refs picked up the flag after conferring and the Falcons began the fourth quarter with a 3rd-and-10 at their 46-yard line. In the midst of pressure Ryan was able to hit Jones over the middle for a seven-yard gain, although the play was nullified by Kikaha jumping offsides. On 3rd-and-5, Ryan threw behind Jones on a slant that was broken up by Breaux. The Falcons opted to go for it again on fourth down, this time at the Saints 49-yard line. Ryan hit Tamme on a cross as the tight end made an excellent diving grab for 20 yards. Two plays later, Freeman was able to sneak through and find daylight on the second level on a 25-yard touchdown run. The Falcons had cut the Saints lead to 24-14 with 13:07 left in the game after a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive.

The Saints got busy trying to salt away as much clock as possible on their next drive. Ingram gained 11 yards on the opening play before Brees hit Watson for a 14-yard pass and gain. Two plays later, Jackson was able to sniff out a screen and stop Snead for a four-yard gain to force a 3rd-and-3. However Cooks streaked past Adams downfield for a 26-yard gain. Under pressure from Hageman, Brees was able to flip a pass to Ingram on the next play, gaining the team seven yards in the process. After Bartu stuffed a handoff to Ingram for one yard, the Saints had another 3rd-and-2 from the Falcons 14-yard line. A stretch play to Robinson converted for an eight-yard gain, which had another three yards tacked on thanks to a facemask penalty against Biermann. The Falcons defense held strong on the next two plays thanks to Allen breaking up a potential touchdown to Hill in the end zone and Ingram getting stuffed by Bartu after a one-yard gain. However the Saints got a new set of downs on the latter play thanks to an illegal use of hands penalty against Moore. On the very next play, Ingram capped off the Saints drive, reaching across the goal line on a one-yard scoring run. That pushed the Saints lead to an insurmountable 31-14 with eight minutes remaining in the game.

The Falcons tried to dial up a deep shot to Jones on the first play of the ensuing series but the receiver was blanketed on Ryan’s underthrown pass. Jordan then powered his way through Chester for a sack, dropping the Falcons back seven yards. On 3rd-and-17, Kikaha worked his way around Jake Matthews along the edge, stripping Ryan from behind. Fortunately, Matthews was able to fall on the loose ball at the Falcons four-yard line before Bosher had a short 44-yard punt back to the Saints.

The Saints took over at the Falcons 42-yard line with 6:21 left in the game and proceeded to run the ball four consecutive times before attempting another field goal from Hocker, who pushed the 48-yard kick wide left.

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Devonta Freeman skirts past Kenny Vaccaro on his second touchdown of the game

The Falcons took over with 3:57 left in the game at their 38-yard line. Ryan proceeded to check the ball down on his next three passes, one going to Hankerson for eight yards and two to Freeman for eight and six yards, respectively. Then Hankerson and Freeman each dropped a pass, forcing the Falcons to go for it on 4th-and-4 at the Saints 40-yard line. Freeman was abel to convert in the flat on a six-yard gain to keep the drive alive. Ryan was then sacked again by Jordan, as he tried to step up in the pocket into the waiting arms of the Saints defensive end. Another checkdown to Freeman gained the Falcons nine yards before Ryan couldn’t convert on 3rd-and-5 on a pass to Tamme, thanks to the Falcons tight end getting sandwiched between two Saints defenders, which knocked the ball loose for the incompletion. Just as the two-minute warning hit, the Falcons were able to convert another fourth down thanks to Ryan finding Jones over the middle for a 16-yard gain. Now at the Saints 13-yard line, Ryan found an open Freeman in the flat, as the running back was able to skirt past a Saints defender along the sideline and tiptoe his way into the end zone for a 13-yard score. The Falcons had cut the Saints lead back to 10 points, now down 31-21 with 1:29 left on the clock.

The Falcons attempted an onside kick, but the ball bounced into the waiting arms of Snead, who recovered at the Falcons 46-yard line. The Falcons extinguished their final two timeouts of the game on the next two plays after a pair of Ingram runs for minimal gains. Ingram then gained six yards on 3rd-and-9, before the Saints accepted a delay of game penalty to bleed an additional 37 seconds off the clock before punting it.

The Falcons took over at their 17-yard line with 24 seconds left and Jordan was once again able to get to Ryan, stripping the quarterback and recovering the loose ball at the 16-yard line with 17 seconds left. Brees knelt on the ball and the Saints celebrated their second win of the 2015 season.

The Falcons will have some extra days of rest before they go back on the road to face the Tennessee Titans. The Falcons won their last matchup with the Titans back in 2011 in a 23-17 win in the Georgia Dome. Prior to that, they lost five straight to the Titans dating back to 1993 when they were still known as the Houston Oilers. The Falcons and Titans faced off earlier this preseason in a 31-24 win for the Falcons. The Falcons have yet to win a regular-season game in what is now known as Nissan Stadium, sporting an 0-2 all-time record there. Should the Titans lose this weekend to the Miami Dolphins, they will be looking for their first home win of the season next week against the Falcons. Meanwhile, the Falcons are currently 2-1 in road games thus far this year.

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