The Falcons dropped a tough divisional loss to the New Orleans Saints 23-17 in their 2013 NFL season opener. The Falcons had an opportunity to take the lead with a score in the final minutes, but Falcons receivers could not reel in Matt Ryan’s passes to win it.
Matt Ryan led the team, completing 25 of 38 passes for 304 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception. Ryan saw significant pressure as he was sacked three times and hit six times. Steven Jackson had an impressive debut with 77 yards on the ground on 11 carries, including a 50-yard run. Julio Jones led receivers with 7 catches for 76 yards and a touchdown. Tony Gonzalez had the Falcons other score, finishing the game with 3 catches for 36 yards. Harry Douglas (4 catches, 93 yards) and Jackson (5 catches, 45 yards) also had standout performances. Roddy White, who was injured, was limited with just 2 catches for 19 yards. The Falcons offensively got off to a good start, taking an early 10-0 lead over the Saints, but the Falcons couldn’t sustain it. They did have 367 total yards and converted only 3 of 11 third downs. Matt Bryant connected on his lone field goal attempt from 23 yards out. Matt Bosher had six punts for an average of 46.8 yards, with 2 placed inside the 20-yard line. Harry Douglas returned a pair of punts for 21 yards.
Defensively, the Falcons got off to a good start, keeping the Saints scoreless through the first quarter. Asante Samuel was a gameday scratch, and the team was forced to start Robert McClain at left cornerback, and promote Robert Alford to nickel back. Akeem Dent led the Falcons defense with 11 tackles, including 2 for loss. Alford (1 tackle, 1 interception, 2 passes defended), Kroy Biermann (5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss), Thomas DeCoud (7 tackles, 1 tackle for loss), Peria Jerry (1 tackle, 1 sack), McClain (10 tackles, 1 pass defended), William Moore (8 tackles), Corey Peters (6 tackles, 1 sack), Desmond Trufant (5 tackles), and Sean Weatherspoon (7 tackles, 1 tackle for loss) had notable games. The Saints put up 419 total yards and converted 6 of 13 third downs (46%).
The Falcons began the game offensively with a three-and-out, as Matt Ryan couldn’t connect with Tony Gonzalez with a defender draped over him. But the Falcons defense responded, as Osi Umenyiora got pressure to force an incompletion of the second play of the drive. Robert Alford would then break up a deep pass to Kenny Stills on third down, to force a Saints punt. The Falcons offense startted to get going on the next drive. Harry Douglas caught an 11-yard pass to open the series. Then three plays later, Ryan found him on a crossing pattern, and Douglas scurried for a 50-yard gain down to the Saints’ 10-yard line. Two plays later, Ryan threw back to Tony Gonzalez for a 7-yard touchdown to give the Falcons an early 7-0 lead.
The Falcons defense once again responded and forced another Saints punt. Bradie Ewing opened up the drive with a 15-yard catch from Ryan. Ryan would then scramble 12 yards three plays later. When Kenny Vaccaro hit him late after sliding, it tackled on an additional 7 yards which put the Falcons at the Saints’ 7-yard line. After two runs that were bottled up, pressure got to Ryan on third down, forcing him to throw it away. Matt Bryant came out on the field and the Falcons settled for a 23-yard field goal to push their lead 10-0 with 1:28 left in the first quarter.
With the second quarter starting, the Saints started to move the ball. Jimmy Graham caught a 21-yard pass from Brees on 3rd & 9 to put the Saints in Falcons’ territory. But the Falcons’ defense stepped up again, with Thomas DeCoud stopping Mark Ingram in the backfield for a 4-yard loss four plays later. After a Brees’ incompletion thanks to a pass broken up by Desmond Trufant, the Saints had to settle for a 48-yard field goal from Garrett Hartley. That put the Saints on the board for the first time with less than 11 minutes to go in the first half.
Ryan hit Julio Jones for a 22-yard gain on the first play of the ensuing Falcons series, but Jones fumbled reaching for extra yardage. The ball was recovered by Roman Harper and the Saints had possession at the Falcons’ own 31-yard-line. After two runs, Brees found Marques Colston down the seam for a 25-yard touchdown pass to tie the game up.
On the next Falcons’ series, Roddy White would make his first catch on a sideline pass from Ryan for 15 yards on 3rd & 11. But pressure got to Ryan on the team’s next third down try and Ryan’s pass to Jackson fell in the dirt, forcing a Bosher punt. Brees would hit Kenny Stills two plays later for a 67-yard gain to get the ball down to the Falcons’ 9-yard-line. But a pair of holding calls on Jahri Evans backed up the Saints, and ultimately they had to settle for another field goal from Hartley, this time from 31 yards. That gave the Saints their first lead of the day with less than two minutes left in the half.
The Falcons started to move the ball, with Ryan finding first Douglas then Jones for a pair of passes of 12 and 21 yards, respectively. But Ryan’s next pass to Gonzalez was incomplete on an overthrow. Then Junior Galette beat a blocking Gonzalez for a Ryan sack, knocking the Falcons back 10 yards. Ryan would throw it away on 3rd & 20, forcing another Bosher punt with 30 seconds to go. The Saints would run out the clock and settle for their 13-10 lead at halftime.
The Saints started out with the ball at the start of third quarter, but the Falcons defense would hold them to a three-and-out. Pressure by Jonathan Babineaux on 3rd & 8 would get cleaned up by Corey Peters for a sack on Brees to force a Saints punt. After Steven Jackson broke a 50-yard run on the second play of the ensuing Falcons’ series, three plays later Matt Ryan found Jones in the back of the endzone for a 4-yard score to give the Falcons the lead once more, 17-13.
But the Saints responded thanks in large part to a 22-yard catch from Darren Sproles on 3rd & 6 that put the ball in Falcons’ territory. Sproles beat Moore, but Moore would respond on the next play, but dropped an interception on a Brees’ pass to Lance Moore. Brees would hit Kenny Stills three plays later for a 19-yard gain to get into the redzone. Three plays later, Jimmy Graham caught a pass in the flat, and DeCoud couldn’t make the stop after the catch to give him a 7-yard touchdown. The Saints took the lead right back 20-17, with just over six minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Falcons’ offense had a three-and-out on the next play, thanks to another sack on Ryan on 2nd & 9 that forced a long third down. But the defense stepped up as Robert Alford picked off a pass from Brees on the first play of the next series. That gave the Falcons the ball back at their own 45-yard-line. But again, a sack on first down backed up the Falcons and they were forced to punt on another three-and-out.
With the fourth quarter beginning, the Saints were able to move the ball into Falcons territory before Brees missed on consecutive throws to force another punt. The Falcons returned to Steven Jackson on the next drive. He took the first snap for a 5-yard gain. Then he caught a screen for 17 yards on the next play, followed by a 2-yard catch after that. But two plays later, Sam Baker was flagged for a hold which backed the Falcons once again for a long third down. The Falcons couldn’t convert and Bosher punted once again. The Saints marched the ball down the field, as Brees hit on five of five passes for 73 yards. But the Falcons’ defense held once again in the redzone, as Robert McClain stopped Lance Moore shy of the sticks on 3rd & 9 from the Falcons’ 11-yard-line to force a 22-yard field goal from Hartley. That pushed the Saints lead to 23-17 with 3:12 left in the game.
The Falcons’ ensuing drive started at their own 20-yard-line. Ryan hit his first three passes to Jones (17 yards), Gonzalez (16 yards), and Jackson (7 yards) to get the ball into Saints territory quickly. After another pass to Gonzalez for 13 yards, the two-minute warning hit with the Falcons holding the ball at the Saints’ 27-yard line. Jacquizz Rodgers was bottled up for no gain on the next play. That was followed by a 20-yard gain by Harry Douglas to get the ball to the Saints’ 7-yard-line. Then Ryan tried to hit Douglas on an out, but he couldn’t extend for the high grab. Ryan then found White for a 4-yard gain to make it 3rd & goal from the Saints’ three. Steven Jackson would drop Ryan’s third down pass at the goalline, forcing a fourth down. With some pressure, Ryan faded away and tried to lob it to Gonzalez, but it was tipped and intercepted by Roman Harper. Brees would kneel twice and the game was over.
The Falcons will face the St. Louis Rams next week in their home opener in the Georgia Dome.