The “Byron Leftwich Era” may have already ended no sooner than it started. Leftwich went down midway in the third quarter in his starting debut with the Falcons, as the team lost to the New Orleans Saints 22-16. Leftwich played relatively well while in the game, but once again squandered opportunities hurt the Falcons as they fall to 1-6 on the season.
Leftwich completed 15 of 23 passes for 145 yards with a touchdown strike before getting hurt. Harrington entered the game and was 12 of 18 for 128 yards. On the ground, Jerious Norwood led the team with 38 yards on 6 carries, while Warrick Dunn had 13 carries for 28 yards. Roddy White played well at receiver, catching 8 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown. Michael Jenkins (6 catches for 69 yards) and Laurent Robinson (3 catches for 53 yards) also contributed. The Falcons offense dominated time of possession in the first half, holding onto the ball for more than 20 minutes. But they settled for field goals in two early red zone opportunities, and were unable to move the ball with the good field position after recovering an onside kick after the second field goal.
Defensively, the Falcons played tough for the majority of the game, but couldn’t make stops at pivotal moments in the final quarter. They allowed 310 total yards by the Saints offense and only allowed them to convert 1 of their first 8 third down attempts. Keith Brooking led tacklers with 10 stops. Michael Boley (9 tackles), DeAngelo Hall (6 tackles and also had an interception negated by penalty), Demorrio Williams (7 tackles, 1 interception), and Chris Houston (4 tackles) had noticeable performances. Following Morten Andersen’s third field goal to put the team up 16-14 in the fourth quarter, the Saints were successful in driving the ball 69 yards on 11 plays to take the lead. And then were successful on their two point conversion attempt to extend the lead to six. On that drive, the Saints converted 3 third downs, with the last one counting as a Reggie Bush touchdown.
On special teams, Andersen was 3 for 3 on field goals, making attempts from 38, 33, and 21 yards out. Michael Koenen had 6 punts for an average of 44.2 yards, putting 3 inside the Saints’ 20-yard line. Adam Jennings had 4 punt returns for an average of 9.3 yards. Jennings also recovered Koenen’s successful second quarter onside kick.
The Falcons will get a break and a chance to regroup with a bye next week. Then they will host the 2-6 San Francisco 49ers on November 4. During 35 years as a divisional rival in the old NFC West, the Falcons were consistently dominated by the 49ers as their record during that span was 25-43-1. But in their only matchup since the divisional realignment five years ago, the Falcons won 21-19 in their 2004 season opener. They are slightly better at home against the 49ers, having won 3 of their last 4 there.