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Falcons miss opportunities in overtime loss

November 13th, 2011
AP Photo from Yahoo! Sports

Meachem makes TD grab over DeCoud

The Falcons dropped an overtime heart-breaker to the New Orleans Saints at home, by a score of 26-23. It marks the team’s third consecutive home loss to the Saints. The Falcons led a valiant comeback to tie the game at the end of regulation, but a failed fourth down conversion in overtime deep in their own territory set up an easy Saints field goal for the win.

Matt Ryan completed 29 of a career-high 52 pass attempts for 351 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception. Michael Turner led rushers with 96 yards on 22 carries. Jacquizz Rodgers added 30 yards on 7 carries. Harry Douglas led receivers with career highs of 8 catches and 133 yards. Tony Gonzalez (6 catches, 71 yards, 1 touchdown), Roddy White (4 catches, 62 yards),  Jason Snelling (2 catches, 25 yards, 1 touchdown), and Eric Weems (3 catches, 25 yards) also contributed. Julio Jones left the game just before halftime, re-aggravating his hamstring injury. He finished on the day with 2 catches for 9 yards. Matt Bryant connected on 3 of 4 field goal attempts. His miss from 40 yards snapped his consecutively made field goal streak at 29. His 27-yarder at the end of regulation tied the game and sent it into overtime. Matt Bosher had a solid day punting, averaging 45.4 yards on 5 punts. He also had a touchback on a kickoff, a touchdown-saving tackle on another, but could not convert on an onside kick attempt late in the fourth quarter. Eric Weems averaged 20.5 yards on 2 kickoff returns. The Falcons offense struggled converting third downs, going 5 of 16 on the day, went 0 for 3 in the redzone in terms of touchdowns, and were penalized 10 times.

Defensively, the Falcons had some success keeping the explosive Saints offense in check. While they gave up 363 total yards, they did hold the Saints to going 4 of 13 on third downs, limiting them to 41 rushing yards on 16 attempts (2.6 avg), as well as shutting them down in the redzone (0 for 3 on touchdowns). But they could not force any turnovers, snapping the team’s 27-game streak of doing so. They also struggled to get pressure on Drew Brees, resulting in no sacks. Curtis Lofton led defenders with 9 tackles including one for a loss. John Abraham (5 tackles, 1 QB hit), Jonathan Babineaux (3 tackles), Thomas DeCoud (7 tackles), Ray Edwards (3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss), Brent Grimes (4 tackles, 1 pass defended), Kelvin Hayden (4 tackles), Stephen Nicholas (5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss), James Sanders (5 tackles), and Sean Weatherspoon (6 tackles, 1 pass defended) had notable performances.

The Falcons began the game with a strong effort on the opening series. They methodically marched down the field, giving the Saints a heavy dose of the run and Michael Turner. He rushed 8 times for 39 yards. They consumed nearly 9 minutes of clock on a 16-play, 61-yard drive. But the drive stalled with a false start by Will Svitek forcing a 3rd & 16 and the Falcons ultimately settled for a 36-yard field goal from Bryant. A 39-yard kickoff return by Darren Sproles helped set up the Saints drive, with Bosher making a touchdown-saving tackle. But the Saints had success moving the ball, but a dropped pass by Jimmy Graham on 3rd down stalled their drive. They settled for a 52-yard field goal by John Kasay to tie up the game 3-3. The Falcons next drive was a three-and-out. But the Falcons defense responded forcing a three-and-out of their own on the Saints, thanks in part to another drop by Graham on third down. The Falcons began the ensuing drive at the start of the second quarter near midfield, with Ryan connecting with Roddy White for a 17-yard grab on first down to move the ball into Saints territory. A third down conversion to Julio Jones and two runs by Jacquizz Rodgers for a combined 14 yards and they were in the redzone. But the Falcons again stalled on third down, and Bryant trotted out on the field to hit a 29-yard field goal to take the lead back 6-3. The Falcons made another solid defensive stand to force a Saints punt, but the offense struggled to move the ball and they had to punt with less than 4 minutes remaining on the clock in the first half. Drew Brees hit a wide open Graham on a 29-yard strike on first down. And then two plays later found Graham open again on a broken coverage for an easy 21-yard touchdown pass, as the Saints took a 10-6 lead with 2:34 left in the second quarter. The Falcons failed to capitalize with a three-and-out, but the Saints had one of their own to give the Falcons the ball back with 1:05 on the clock at their own 1-yard line. A 10-yard run by Michael Turner on second down was following by a five-yeard illegal use of hands penalty on Jabari Greer. Ryan then found Harry Douglas deep down the middle of the field for a 46-yard strike to put the ball in Saints territory. Ryan scrambled for 9 yards on the next play, but the team used its final timeout with 23 ticks on the clock. The Falcons ran the ball up the middle to Jacquizz Rodgers for 3 yards but were forced to spike it with 10 seconds to go. They took a final shot, but Ryan was forced to throw it out of the back of the endzone with 3 seconds left. Bryant came out on the field, but his 41-yard attempt just sneaked outside the left goalpost for the miss to keep the score at 10-6 at halftime.

On the second play of the opening series of the second half, Brees hit Robert Meachem for a 36-yard strike. Two runs by Pierre Thomas and the Saints were in the redzone. But the Falcons made a valiant stand, with John Abraham stopping Thomas for a 4-yard loss and Stephen Nicholas and Dunta Robinson swarming to stuff Darren Sproles on 3rd & 5. John Kasay’s 40-yard field goal attempt was a duck that sailed wide left and the Falcons had made a successful stand to start the third quarter. The Falcons capitalized on their next drive, with Ryan finding Douglas on a 12-yard pass on 3rd & 10. The Falcons ground attack started to get back on track with Turner busted up the left sideline for a 24-yard gain two plays later. Four plays later, the Falcons went for it on a 4th & 1 at the Saints 26-yard line and Turner was successful at converting. On the very next play, Ryan hit Snelling over the middle on a checkdown, but Snelling broke several tackles and rumbled his way into the endzone a 21-yard touchdown play. The Falcons took a 13-10 led with 5 minutes left in the third quarter. But the Saints would not lay down, as Brees 19-yard third down pass to Marques Colston put the ball in Falcon territory. And then four plays later, Brees threw over Thomas DeCoud to find Robert Meachem in the back of the endzone for a 33-yard touchdown strike. On the ensuing drive, Ryan found White for a 20-yard play on first down. But two plays later, White was called for a questionable offensive pass interference call when Ryan hit Gonzalez for an 11-yard play. The very next play, Ryan’s pass to White tipped off the receiver’s hands and into the arms of Scott Shanle. That turnover set up the Saints at the Falcons own 26-yard line. But the defense held, thanks in part to a holding call on left tackle Jermon Bushrod that set up a 3rd & 20. The Saints ultimately had to settle for a 48-yard field goal from Kasay to stretch their lead 20-13. The Falcons could not answer on the ensuing drive, with Harry Douglas dropping a 3rd down pass that forced a Bosher punt that pinned the Saints at their own 12. But Brees hit Lance Moore for 28 yards on the next play and then found Colston a few plays later for 18 yards to convert a third down. But the Saints drive stalled at the Falcons 26-yard line when Brees rushed a throw to Graham for an incompletion. And again the Falcons defense held the Saints to a field goal, with Kasay hitting from 44 yards to take a 10-point lead with little more than 7 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. On first down of the next series, Ryan found Tony Gonzalez for 18 yards. Roddy White converted a 4th & 3 with a 6-yard catch six plays later. Then Ryan found WHite again for a 19-yard gain that put the Falcons at the Saints 20. Ryan found Tony Gonzalez on a laser pass on the next play for six, and the Falcons had cut the lead to three points with just over 4 minutes to go. The Falcons attempted an onside kick, but Lance Moore recovered it to give the Saints the ball at the Falcons own 44-yard line. The Saints looked to be moving the ball when Colston converted a 3rd & 11 with a 13-yard reception. And an offsides penalty on Jonathan Babineaux two plays later did not help to give the Saints a 2nd & 1 at the Falcons own 23-yard line. But Ray Edwards blasted through on the next play to stuff Mark INgram in the backfield on the nex play. And then John Abraham followed suit tripping up Drew Brees on the next play. Kasay came out and hit a 45-yard field goal, but a holding call on Jimmy Graham negated the kick. That forced the Saints to punt the ball with Weems making a fair catch at the Falcons own 6-yard line with just under 2 minutes remaining. Matt Ryan found Douglas on the first two plays, both for 23 yards each to set up the Falcons at midfield.  A false start by White set them back 5 yards but two plays later Ryan found Douglas again over the middle for 20 yards. On the next play, Ryan hit Gonzalez for 4 yards out of bounds to stop the clock with 46 seconds left. A defensive pass interference call on Tracy Porter two players late on 3rd down gave the Falcons a first down at the Saints 20-yard line. Ryan missed on two throws to Tony Gonzalez, before finding Eric Weems for 11 yards on 3rd down.  Ryan had two more chances to connect with White and Weems, but could not and Matt Bryant’s 27-yard field goal tied the game at the end of regulation.

The Falcons won the toss at the outset of overtime, but Ryan’s pass to Harry Douglas on a 3rd & 2 was tipped forcing the team to punt after a three-and-out. But the defense responded with their own forced three-and-out and they had the ball back after Morstead’s punt went for a touchback. Ryan took a deep shot to Douglas over the middle, but it was incomplete. He found Tony Gonzalez for 9 yards on the next play to set up a 3rd & 1. He then hit Mike Cox in the flat, with Cox stretching to convert for the first. But the officials reviewed the play and indicated that Cox had fallen short of the line due to his fumble out of bounds. The Falcons then on 4th & 1 at their own 29, handed off to Michael Turner up the middle who was stuffed for no gain. The Saints got the ball back already in field goal range. And two runs and 12-yard pass later, Kasay was set up for a 26-yard field goal to win it and he connected.

The Falcons hope to respond next week at home against the Tennessee Titans. That game was originally scheduled to be a 1:00 game, but was flexed by CBS to 4:15 last week. The Saints record moves to 7-3 going into their bye, and the Falcons drop to 5-4 in second place. Due to the tie-breaker, the Falcons are essentially 3 games behind in the division race and will likely need to rack up several wins in the coming weeks before they face the Saints again on the road in a Week 16 matchup on Monday Night Football. The Titans (5-4) are coming off a 30-3 stomping of the Carolina Panthers. The Falcons have not beaten the Titans since their days as the Houston Oilers in 1990. They have lost five straight, including their last matchup a 20-13 loss in 2007. Under Mike Smith, the Falcons are 10-3 against AFC teams, including a 5-1 mark at home.

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