The Atlanta Falcons pulled out a tight one against their divisional rival the New Orleans Saints with a 37-34 overtime victory. Falcons kicker Matt Bryant hit a pair of kicks over 50 yards, the first to send the game into the extra period and the second to win the game. The Falcons made a resilient comeback, starting the game down 13-0 and didn’t take a lead until late in the third quarter. The Saints would take a 34-31 lead with just 80 seconds left in the game, allowing the Falcons enough time to drive down the field for Bryant to work his magic.
Matt Ryan led the way, completing 31 of 43 passes for a career-high 448 yards with a trio of touchdown passes. Steven Jackson led the team with 52 yards on 12 carries on the ground. Jacquizz Rodgers added 34 yards and a touchdown on six carries, while rookie Devonta Freeman also got into the action with 15 yards on two carries. Julio Jones got off to a slow start, but still wound up leading the team with seven receptions for 116 yards. Harry Douglas added six catches for 69 yards, while Devin Hester nearly eclipsed 100 yards in his first game as a Falcon. Hester finished with 99 yards on five receptions. Roddy White had a touchdown reception, while catching five passes for 72 yards. Levine Toilolo (three catches, 19 yards) and Antone Smith (one catch, 54 yards) each also caught touchdown passes. Bryant connected on three field goals of 40, 51 and 52 yards, with the latter being the game-winner. Matt Bosher punted three times for an average of 52.3 yards. Hester had single kickoff and punt returns for 21 and one yard, respectively. The Falcons produced 568 yards of total offense, a franchise record, eclipsing a 2002 record of 533 yards set against the Detroit Lions. They also converted six of 11 third-down tries and scored touchdowns on all three red-zone trips.
Defensively, the Falcons gave up 472 yards and struggled to get off the field on third downs. They allowed the Saints to convert eight of 13 third-down attempts, and gave up 139 yards on the ground. But the Falcons were able to force a pair of turnovers, including a strip by William Moore in overtime that gave the Falcons favorable field position to set up Bryant’s game-winning field goal. Their other turnover was an interception by Robert McClain in the end zone that halted a Saints drive, and the Falcons were able to swing momentum back in their favor with a scoring drive of their own to take their first lead of the game. Paul Worrilow led the team with 15 tackles. Robert Alford (three tackles, two passes defended); Joplo Bartu (10 tackles, one fumble recovery); Kroy Biermann (six tackles, one tackle for loss); Dwight Lowery (11 tackles); McClain (five tackles, one interception); Moore (six tackles, one forced fumble); and Desmond Trufant (two tackles, one pass defended) had noteworthy games.
The game did not start too promising for the Falcons defense as Drew Brees hit rookie receiver Brandin Cooks over the middle for a 32-yard gain on the second play from scrimmage. That put the ball in Falcons territory, and two more Brees completions later the Saints found themselves in the red zone. The Falcons defense got help from an illegal use of hands penalty on Zach Strief which backed them up to a 2nd-and-19 at the Falcons 27-yard line. Brees found Cooks again on third down, but he was stopped shy of the sticks and Shayne Graham came out and hit a 31-yard field goal to give the Saints an early 3-0 lead.
The Falcons failed to answer thanks in part of a false start penalty on Hester backing them up on third down. Then Ryan’s pass to Hester on a slant went through the receiver’s hands and Bosher came out to punt for the first time.
The Falcons saw a bit of a scare on the next series with Brees overthrowing Joseph Morgan, but the Saints were still able to convert their second third down of the drive on a 13-yard pass to Jimmy Graham two plays later. But the Falcons defense held, as the Saints were unable to gain anymore yards on their next three plays, thanks in part to Alford tipping another throw to Morgan in the end zone. Shayne Graham, this time, hit from 50 yards to push the Saints lead to 6-0 with 4:39 left in the first quarter.
The Falcons offense finally began to get into gear on the next series with Ryan hitting Douglas and White on his first two passes to get the ball to midfield. Ryan’s next two throws went to Toilolo, helping set up the Falcons with a first down at the Saints 25-yard line. On the next play, the Falcons hit Jones on a screen pass and he sprinted 20 yards before safety Jairus Byrd stripped him of the ball at the five-yard line. Corey White fell on it in the end zone and the Saints took over with less than a minute to go in the first quarter.
To start the second quarter, Cooks ran for 18 yards on a reverse, which put the ball in Falcons territory. On the next play, running back Khiry Robinson rumbled up the middle for a 21-yard gain. Brees would hit on his next two completions before hitting Cooks once more for a nine-yard gain that put the ball down at the two-yard line. Robinson capped off the drive with a two-yard run to give the Saints a 13-0 lead with 11:46 left in the first half.
On the next drive, the Falcons would convert their first third down of the game when Ryan hit Hester on a go route for a gain of 35 yards. Three plays later, a 17-yard run by Jackson helped get the ball to the Saints 31-yard line. Ryan would scramble for the Falcons next third-down conversion. A few plays later, Gabe Carimi would draw his second penalty on the drive with a false start that backed up the Falcons for a 3rd-and-15 try. But a defensive pass interference call on Corey White would give the Falcons a new set of downs at the Saints 13-yard line. On their next third down, Freeman was able to truck a defender to get a 13-yard gain and set up the Falcons at the two-yard line. Roddy White would make the grab on the next play to score the Falcons first points of the game with four minutes left in the half.
But the Saints offense would not be denied, able to move the ball into Falcons territory just after the two-minute warning hit on five plays. A defensive holding call on McClain helped get the Saints offense more yards a few plays later. Three plays later, Brees capped off a nine-play, 80-yard scoring drive with a three-yard pass to Cooks on a quick slant to beat Alford in the end zone. Brees was perfect on the drive, completing all six pass attempts for 50 yards.
However, the Falcons showed resiliency and were not deterred with just 20 seconds left on the clock before halftime. Ryan hit Hester for a 19-yard gain, which was followed by a 39-yard pass to White. Left tackle Jake Matthews was injured on that play and would not return to the game. But White’s catch set up Bryant for his first field goal of the day, a 40-yarder as time expired in the half. Bryant hit and the Falcons had cut the Saints led to 20-10 at halftime.
The Falcons got the ball back to start the second half and capitalized with a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive to slash the Saints 10-point lead. Ryan connected on five of six passes for a combined 55 yards, including a pair of throws to Jones for a combined 47 yards. Ryan capped off the drive by finding an open Toilolo in the end zone on a one-yard score. The score was now 20-17 with little more than nine minutes to go in the third quarter.
Two Falcons defensive penalties gave the Saints a pair of first downs on their next offensive series. The latter was an illegal use of hands flag on McClain which wiped out a sack by Jonathan Babineaux. On the next play, Trufant broke up a deep pass to Robert Meachem and the Saints failed to move the ball much further and the Falcons forced the Saints’ first punt of the game a few plays later.
The Falcons failed to capitalize on their defensive stand and punted after four plays. On the second play of the ensuing Saints series, Brees found Marques Colston over the middle for a 57-yard play that put the Saints in the red zone. But three plays later, McClain undercut Brees’ end-zone pass to Cooks for the interception. The Falcons took over at the 20-yard line with less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The team was able to move the ball to midfield on four plays before Ryan hit Antone Smith on a simple checkdown, but the running back used his trademark speed to outrun several Saints tacklers for a 54-yard touchdown that gave Atlanta their first lead of the game, 24-20 with the third quarter coming to a close.
But the Saints were able to respond with a scoring drive of their own. Brees converted three third downs on the ensuing series, the last of which was a 19-yard pass to Pierre Thomas which put the ball at the Falcons 27-yard line. Two plays later, Mark Ingram hit on a 19-yard run off the left side. On the ensuing play, Ingram scored on a three-yard run to allow the Saints to retake the lead 27-24 with less than nine minutes to go in the game.
Carimi drew another flag, a false start penalty to back up the Falcons to open their next series. Ryan was sacked two plays later by Tyrunn Walker, further backing up the Falcons. A screen to Jones was stopped a few yards shy of the sticks on 3rd-and-18 and the Falcons were forced to punt once more.
But the Falcons defense held strong, forcing their first and only three-and-out of the game on the ensuing series. Ryan and the Falcons took over at their own six-yard line with 6:16 left in the game on their next possession.
Ryan hit Jones on a deep pass to start things for a 23-yard gain. Three plays later on 3rd-and-16, Hester converted on a crossing pattern for a 16-yard gain to put the ball at midfield. Ryan hit Douglas on his next two passes for a combined 26 yards before connecting with Hester again for an eight-yard gain. On the ensuing play, Rodgers put a sick spin move on a Saints defense and ran 17 yards for a touchdown to allow Atlanta to retake the lead 31-27 with less than three minutes remaining in the game.
Despite a false start backing up the Saints on their first play of the ensuing series, they had no problem moving the ball to midfield in three plays just as the two-minute warning hit. Brees’ next pass was an overthrow to Colston, but Alford was flagged for pass interference, giving the Saints a fresh set of downs at the Falcons 25-yard line with 1:49 left in the game. A 13-yard grab by Colston and a pair of runs got the Saints down to the one-yard line, and the Falcons used their first timeout of the half. Bartu and Babineaux teamed to stuff Khiry Robinson for a two-yard loss on the next play, and the Falcons burned their second timeout. But Ingram would run off the right side to get the three-yard score on the next play, leaving the Saints with a 34-31 lead with 1:20 left in the game.
Ryan dialed up Douglas and Jones on the first two plays for a combined 25 yards. The clock stopped after Jones’ catch due to cornerback Patrick Robinson going down with an injury. The Saints blitzed on the next down and Ryan’s pass to Jones was overthrown, stopping the clock with 40 seconds left. Ryan then hit Hester down the seam for a 21-yard gain before spiking the ball. After a one-yard checkdown to Quizz, the Falcons burned their final timeout with eight seconds left in the game. The Falcons tried a deep out to Jones to try and get closer for Bryant’s potential game-tying field goal, but it was for naught. Bryant came out on the field to attempt a 51-yard kick with just four seconds remaining in the game, but his kick was right down the pipe and good, sending the game into overtime.
The Saints won the toss, but on the second play from scrimmage, Moore stripped Colston from behind and the ball was recovered by Bartu at the Saints 38-yard line. A pair of runs by Steven Jackson for four yards tried to inch the ball closer. Ryan’s third-down pass to Toilolo was incomplete, and Bryant had another shot for glory with a 52-yard kick that he nailed less than two minutes into overtime.
The Falcons streak of winning home-openers extends to seven and it marks only their fourth win against the Saints in 13 tries under head coach Mike Smith. The Falcons travel next week to face the 1-0 Cincinnati Bengals. Under Smith, the Falcons are 1-5 in their first road game of the season.