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Falcons drop one against rival Saints

John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE

Saints defender knocks away pass to Gonzalez

The Falcons suffered their first loss of the 2012 season at the hands of NFC South divisional rival the New Orleans Saints. In a 31-27 loss on the road, the Falcons got off to a quick start, but then struggled to get stops as the Saints were then able to take a lead. But the Falcons got their act together and had two opportunities in the final minutes of the game to pull out the win, but fell short both times. The Falcons record moves to 8-1.

Matt Ryan set a career high with 411 yards passing. He also completed 34 of 52 passes, had 3 touchdown passes, and an interception. On the ground the Falcons got very little. Jacquizz Rodgers led the team in rushing with 29 yards on 3 carries, most of that coming on an 18-yard run. Michael Turner had only 15 yards on 13 carries with most of that coming on a 9-yard run. Tony Gonzalez had a big day, catching 11 passes for 122 yards and a pair of touchdown catches. He would get his 100th and 101st career touchdown catches in the contest. He passed Steve Largent and Tim Brown with those plays to move up to 6th all-time in career touchdown catches. Roddy White (7 catches, 114 yards), Julio Jones (4 catches, 75 yards), Harry Douglas (4 catches, 49 yards), and Rodgers (4 catches, 33 yards) would also make contributions in the air. Offensive lineman Mike Johnson caught Ryan’s other touchdown pass, on his lone reception for a single yard. Matt Bryant hit on both of his field goal tries of 37 and 20 yards. Matt Bosher had three punts for an average of 46.7 yards, with one placed inside the 20-yard line. Dominique Franks had a pair of punt returns for 9 total yards, while Douglas had one return for no gain. The Falcons got no opportunities to return kickoffs, as all were touchbacks. Throughout the game, the Falcons really struggled to run the ball in short-yardage situations and near the goalline. They had 6 tries inside the redzone, and scored touchdowns on half of them.

Defensively, the Falcons struggled to slow down the Saints offense in the first half. They gave up 440 total yards on the day, with 268 coming in the first half. Akeem Dent led defenders with 9 tackles. Kroy Biermann (3 tackles); Thomas DeCoud (6 tackles), Robert McClain (4 tackles, 1 pass deflection); William Moore (6 tackles); Stephen Nicholas (7 tackles, 1 sack); Mike Peterson (5 tackles); Dunta Robinson (7 tackles,  1 pass deflection); Asante Samuel (2 tackles, 1 interception, 3 pass deflections); and Vance Walker (4 tackles) had noteworthy games. The defense stepped up in the second half, limiting the Saints to convert on 2 of 7 third down attempts and holding them to 172 total yards. The Saints had 116 rushing yards on 13 carries (8.9 avg) in the first half, but gained just 32 on 16 carries (2.0 avg) in the second half.

The Falcons began the game with a 3-yard loss on a run by Michael Turner, signalling their inability to run the ball all game. But two plays later on 3rd & 10, Ryan found Roddy White for an 11-yard pass to convert. On the ensuing play, Ryan found Gonzalez for a 19-yard gain over the middle. Then the Falcons took a deep shot, with Roddy White getting behind the defense to catch Ryan’s pass in stride for a 49-yard gain to put the ball at the Saints 1-yard line. After a stuffed run by Turner on the next play, Mike Johnson caught Ryan’s 1-yard pass to put the Falcons on the board as he sneaked behind defenders after reporting as an eligible receiver. The Falcons defense got off to a strong start, as Asante Samuel made an excellent diving catch on the Saints opening offensive play for the interception. But an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Samuel for his post-play celebration tacked on 15 yards, giving the Falcons offense the ball at the Saints’ 27-yard line instead of the 12. The Falcons offense suffered a three-and-out as Turner was stopped in the backfield on a 3rd & 1 for -1 yards. Matt Bryant came out on the field to hit from 37 yards on the field goal to put the Falcons up 10-0 with over 9 minutes remaining in the first quarter. The Saints opt to pound the ball on the ground, with a quick 6-play scoring drive, capped off by a 56-yard run by Chris Ivory for a touchdown where he broke a number of tackles in the Falcons secondary. On the ensuing Falcons drive, Ryan hits on his first two passes for 11 yards each to White and Julio Jones. But on 2nd & 4, a quick screen to Jones was stopped a yard shy of the first down marker. On that play, Jones limped off the field with a leg injury and would be out until the second half. On 3rd & 1, Ryan missed on a throw to Jason Snelling and the Falcons had to punt for the first time on the day. The saints took over with 4 minutes remaining in the first quarter. Brees would complete 4 of 4 passes for 49 yards to put the ball into Falcon territory before the quarter ended. Then on the 11th play of the drive at the outset of the second quarter, Brees finds Jimmy Graham for a 29-yard score to allow the Saints to take a lead for the first time on the day, 14-10 with 13:33 left in the half. The Falcons offense got its act together on the next drive. They started out with 3 runs, combining for 13 yards. Then two plays later, Ryan found Gonzalez on 3rd & 7 for a 12-yard gain to convert. Two plays later, he hit Gonzalez again for a 13-yard gain to put the ball in Saints territory. On the next play, Ryan found White on a 26-yard gain on a corner route to get inside the redzone. Turner would then be stuffed for a 1-yard loss on the next play. On 3rd & 6, Ryan would hit Gonzalez again to get the ball down to the 1-yard line. But Roman Harper broke up the next play as Ryan looked for Gonzalez on the fade. Then Turner is stuffed for another 1-yard loss on second down. But this time with Malcolm Jenkins draped all over him, Ryan fits a ball in at the goalline for a 2-yard score to retake the lead 17-14 with 6:32 left in the half. The defense managed to make another stop, thanks in part to a Graham drop on 3rd down to force a Saints punt. But the Falcons offense did not respond with going three-and-out after Ryan took a sack on 3rd down. Now the Saints had a chance to push their lead with 2:17 left in the half, starting at their own 31-yard line. On third down, Brees hits Graham for an 18-yard pass, and then two plays later again finds Graham for 15 yards. With under a minute to go in the half, the Saints found themselves at the Falcons 32-yard line. Lance Moore then caught a 12-yard pass, followed by a 6-yard gain on a Brees pass to Pierre Thomas.  On the next play, Brees hit Graham for the second time with a 14-yard score to push their lead 21-17 with 40 seconds left. After Ryan took a sack on first down on the ensuing drive, the Falcons opted to run the ball to Rodgers to run out the clock and go into halftime down 4 points.

The Falcons defense stepped up to start the second half, as Samuel broke up a 3rd & long pass to force another Saints punt. But the Falcons offense couldn’t capitalize on the stop, as on the third play of the next series, Ryan attempted a deep bomb to D.J. Davis. But the jump ball pass was picked off by Corey White at the Saints’ 19-yard line. Lance Moore would beat Akeem Dent over the middle for a 29-yard gain on the third play of the next Saints series to put the ball in Falcon territory. Four plays later, Brees hit Marques Colston for a 7-yard score on a quick slant against Dunta Robinson. The Saints now had a two-score lead with 9:23 left in the third quarter.  Julio Jones would return to the Falcons lineup on the next series, but it did not amount to much as Curtis Lofton broke up a pass to White on third down for another Falcon three-and-out. The Falcons defense would hold once again on the next series, as Stephen Nicholas would sack Brees on a blitz to force another punt from midfield. But a penalty on Antone Smith on the punt, would force the Falcons to start at their own 9-yard line. Ryan was able to convert the first 3rd & 1 on the drive with a sneak up the middle. Three plays later the Falcons would be in another 3rd & 1 situation, but a false start on Davis would force a 3rd & 6. But he would hit Jones to convert the first down on a 9-yard pass. And on the final play of the third quarter, Ryan would hit Gonzalez on a touch pass over Curtis Lofton for a 19-yard gain. To start the fourth quarter, Ryan hit Douglas over the middle but the pass was ruled incomplete as the refs thought it touched the ground. While Mike Smith challenged the ruling of the incomplete pass, the replay was inconclusive and the ruling on the field stood. Ryan had his next pass batted down at the line of scrimmage, but a defensive penalty on Will Smith gave the Falcons a 1st down at the Saints 44-yard line. Ryan and Douglas would make up for the previously missed connection, as Douglas goes down the middle for a 23-yard gain on the next play. A quick dump-off to Rodgers for a 15-yard gain would get the ball down to the 6-yard line. Then Ryan hit Gonzalez for his second score of the game on a 6-yard throw into double coverage. The Falcons had now cut the Saints lead to 4 points with 13:27 left in the fourth. The Falcons defense would hold the Saints to a three-and-out, thanks to a pair of tackles by Dent and then Robert McClain’s hit on Devery Henderson to jar the ball loose on a 3rd & 2 pass. On the second play of the Falcons next possession, Ryan found Jones down the sideline on a 52-yard play. A sideline penalty on the Saints coaches would put the ball at the Saints 5-yard line. Turner was stuffed for no gain on his carry. Rodgers would gain 3 yards on a quick dump-off to set up 3rd & goal from the 2. But Ryan missed on a fade pass to Jones, which was out of his reach on the diving attempt. The Falcons settled for three points with a 20-yard field goal by Bryant. With their lead slashed to 1 point, the Saints now had the ball back with 9 minutes to go in the game. A 17-yard throw to Lance Moore gave the Saints a first down. Then a few plays later on 3rd & 5, William Moore lost sight of Jimmy Graham to give up a 46-yard gain. That put the ball at the Falcons’ 12-yard line. The defense would step up and the Saints would not gain a yard on their next three plays, and they too had to settle for a field goal. McClain, Moore, and Samuel all convened on Colston in the endzone to break up the third down pass to force the kick. Garrett Hartley hit from 31-yards to give the Saints a 31-27 lead with 6 minutes left in the game. The Falcons now needed to go 80 yards to score a touchdown with 5:54 left. Ryan hit White on a quick out for 7 yards, but then tries to go back to that well on the next play and the ball falls incomplete. But Rodgers steps up on 3rd down, taking a short pass in the flat 14 yards for a first down. Three plays later, the Falcons found themselves in another 3rd down situation near midfield. Ryan hit Douglas on an out for 8 yards. On the following play, Ryan then found Gonzalez down the seam for 17 yards. Rodgers then would get his chance on the ground, bouncing a run outside and then cutting back in the middle for an 18-yard gain. On the next play, Ryan dumped the ball off to Douglas who ran 9 yards to get the ball down to the Saints 1-yard line at the two-minute warning. But a play-action pass to Gonzalez was broken up by Malcolm Jenkins at the last moment to prevent the score. Then a 3rd & goal run to Turner was stuffed again for a 1-yard loss. That left the Falcons one last opportunity on 4th down from the Saints 2-yard line with 1:46 left on the clock. Jabari Greer broke up Ryan’s throw to White. The Saints took over at their own 2-yard line with 1:42 left in the game, and opted to go conservative with three straight runs for a total of 2 yards. The Falcons would burn their final two timeouts and force a Saints punt. Harry Douglas was back on the return and was unable to get much yards, but a holding call on Lawrence Sidbury pushed the Falcons back 10 more yards. With 37 seconds, they needed to go 69 yards to score a touchdown to win the game. Ryan hit Douglas on first down for a 9-yard gain out of bounds. Then Ryan overthrew his next pass to Jones while trying to scramble left to avoid pressure. Then Ryan would take a shot deep to White while scrambling right on the next play. But the ball sailed over White’s head, which could have potentially put the ball inside the Saints 10 had he made the play. On fourth down, Ryan’s quick out to Gonzalez went through the veteran tight end’s hands. A turnover on downs with 12 seconds left, the Saints then knelt on the ball to end the game and end the Falcons hopes for an undefeated regular season in 2012.

Next week the Falcons will return home to take on the Arizona Cardinals. Their last outing against the Cardinals came in 2010, where they put a 41-7 beatdown on Arizona in the Georgia Dome. The Falcons have won 5 straight against the Cardinals in the Georgia Dome dating back to 1994, and are 6-1 all-time in the Dome versus that team. The Cardinals have lost three straight on the road this year, sporting a 1-3 record. Their lone win came in the Eastern timezone against the New England Patriots in Week 2. All-time under Ken Whisenhunt, the Cardinals are 7-13 when playing on the road in the Eastern timezone with a 2-5 record the past three seasons. All-time under Mike Smith, the Falcons are 8-0 in home games directly following a road loss.

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Author: Aaron Freeman

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