The Falcons might have made a huge step forward with a big win against division rival and the reigning Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints with a 27-24 victory in overtime. With the victory over the Saints and a 2-1 record, the Falcons now are tied for first place in the NFC South with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Matt Ryan had a very strong performance, completing 19 of 30 passes for 228 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also ran for 26 yards on 6 carries as well. Michael Turner and Jason Snelling both had solid days as the Falcons ground game was pivotal in the team’s ability to control the clock and tempo of the game throughout. Turner led with 114 yards on 30 carries and a touchdown. Jason Snelling added 62 yards on 14 carries. In the air, Tony Gonzalez had a standout performance with 6 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. It marked his first 100-yard game as a Falcon. Roddy White added 5 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. Ovie Mughelli had 2 grabs for 29 yards, and Turner added 2 catches for 11 yards. The Falcons held the ball for almost 46 minutes of the 72 minutes of total gametime. They converted 9 of 18 third downs, and 2 of 3 fourth down attempts. They also tallied 417 total yards, marking the second week in a row where they gained over 400 yards in total offense. The Falcons leaned heavily on the ground game in the second half. In the first half, the team only had 57 yards on 22 carries. But in the second they exploded with 145 yards on 28 carries, which included some long runs by both Turner and Snelling as the Saints defense wore down late.
Defensively, the Falcons gave up some big plays but made some stops at some critical times. Curtis Lofton led defenders with 8 tackles. John Abraham (3 tackles, 1 sack), Jonathan Babineaux (4 tackles, 1 sack), Thomas DeCoud (7 tackles, 1 interception), Brent Grimes (5 tackles, 1 interception), William Moore (6 tackles), Chris Owens (6 tackles), Corey Peters (3 tackles), Mike Peterson (3 tackles, 1 forced fumble), Dunta Robinson (3 tackles), and Sean Weatherspoon (7 tackles) all had noteworthy games. The Saints managed to convert most of their third down attempts (6 of 11) and were 1 of 2 on fourth down attempts. But the Falcons turnovers early in the game were key to preventing the Saints from getting too comfortable early. As the Falcons were able to generate 10 points off the three turnovers.
The Saints scored first in the game, which was set up by a 72-yard punt return by Lance Moore, which was finished three plays later with a 2-yard scoring strike from Drew Brees to Jeremy Shockey. The Falcons bounced back with a methodicaly 9 play, 80 yard drive that finished with Gonzalez’s 13-yard touchdown catch. It was prominently set up by a 34-yard pass to Gonzalez that put the Falcons in the redzone. The Saints would go up again on a 80-yard pass to Moore. But a Thomas DeCoud interception in the second quarter would set up a long 19-play, 72-yard drive that took 10 minutes and 39 seconds. It was capped off with Turner’s 1-yard score on the team’s fourth effort from inside the 2-yard line. That drive would tie the game up at 14 for the half. Another Saints turnover in the third quarter set up another Falcon drive that stalled at the Saints goalline. The Falcons had three opportunities once more to score from inside the Saints five-yard line, but were stuffed and had to settle for a 23-yard field from Matt Bryant. The Falcons defense made a stand, but on the ensuing Saints punt, the ball touched Thomas DeCoud’s leg and the Saints were able to recover. That gave the Saints the ball back in Falcons territory, and Drew Brees only needed 5 plays before he hit Moore on his second touchdown of the game to take the 21-17 lead. The Falcons managed to answer with a 9-play, 80-yard drive that was capped off by a 22-yard strike from Ryan to White with 9 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Both teams would fail to score on ensuing possessions. Mike Smith made a gutsy call on 4th and 6 at the Saints 37-yard line with 3:36 left in the game to go for it instead of punting, but was unsuccessful. The Saints then drove down the field to get the ball to the Falcons 15-yard line and then Garrett Hartley hit the game-tying field goal to send the game into overtime.
In overtime, the Falcons won the toss, but had a three and out. Brees led the Saints down the field with the Saints ultimately settling for a field goal on 1st and 10 from the Falcons 11-yard line. But Hartley’s chip shot field goal went wide left breathing life back into the Falcons. Ryan followed up with a 12-play drive that took up 7 minutes that largely featured the running of Snelling and Turner. Ryan only attempted a single pass on the drive, which was a completion to Snelling, although another pass attempt on 3rd down was negated by a pivotal pass interference call on Jabari Greer against Roddy White, which gave the Falcons a new set of downs. Turner started the drive, carrying 4 times for 14 yards, while Snelling finished it off with 5 carries for 24 yards. Matt Bryant nailed a 46-yarder with 2 minutes remaining in overtime to seal the victory for the Falcons.
Specail teams was hit and miss. Matt Bryant was excellent, making both his field goal attempts. Michael Koenen had 4 punts for an average of 39.5 yards, not one of his best performances. But he did manage to help out his lacking coverage units on kickoffs with two touchbacks there. He also forced three fair catches after the big 72-yard return by Moore.
Next week the Falcons will host the winless San Francisco 49ers. The Falcons did drub the 49ers last season in the Bay by a score of 45-10, their biggest win of the season. So with a desperate 49ers team and the Falcons coming off a big division win, it has all the recipe for a trap or letdown game for the Falcons. Although the Falcons have won 3 straight against the 49ers, their last loss dating back to 2001 in the days of shared NFC West status before realignment. And the Falcons have won 5 of their last 6 when they’ve hosted the 49ers going back to 1997.