The Atlanta Falcons saved their season Sunday with an impressive 30-14 win over the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome.
It was surprisingly all about defense, as the Falcons forced three turnovers and sacked Saints quarterback Drew Brees five times. The usually-heralded Saints offense was held to 328 total yards by Atlanta’s improving defense.
The game started off terribly for the Falcons, as the Saints ran back the opening kickoff for 99 yards by Jalen Saunders. Mark Ingram then ran it in from one yard out to give New Orleans the early 7-0 lead.
The Saints offense managed only one touchdown the entire game, as Atlanta’s defense shut down Brees and his passing game. The final play of the game was almost perfect, as Brees was sacked by Kroy Biermann and Osi Umenyiora picked up a fumble and ran it 86 yards for a touchdown to seal the victory.
Atlanta’s win sets up a winner-take-all game next Sunday at the Georgia Dome against the Carolina Panthers, who beat Cleveland 17-13 Sunday in Charlotte. The Panthers are now 6-8-1, while the Falcons improved to 6-9. There is talk the game will be moved from a 1:00 pm start to the NBC game Sunday night.
The wins by Atlanta and Carolina also knock out New Orleans for playoff contention.
That makes it a perfect day for Falcons fans. Well, if Carolina lost it might have been perfect, but it’s hard to complain when the Falcons have had so many troubles at the Superdome through the years.
Atlanta’s last four losses – to Detroit, Cleveland, Green Bay and Pittsburgh – were by a total of 16 points. They definitely should have won the games against the Lions and the Browns, which would make their record 8-7 right now and they would already be NFC South champions.
But those losses put this game with New Orleans as a do-or-die situation Sunday, but not only for the team but for the coach as well. Reports continue to swirl that Mike Smith could be fired as Atlanta’s coach if the team does not make the playoffs.
Matt Ryan had a very good game for the Falcons. He completed 30 of 40 passes for 322 yards and one touchdown. Ryan was not sacked one time, which is an accomplishment with starting guard Jon Asamoah out of the game due to injury.
Brees was 30-for-47 for 313 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and the five picks were crucial. Atlanta put pressure on Brees all day, and he was unable to get out of the pocket to rush. Brees had only two rushes for eight yards.
Julio Jones did play and was a factor, with seven catches for 107 yards. Roddy White had six catches for 55 yards, while Devonta Freeman had three catches for 48 yards, including a big 36-yard reception.
Atlanta had many players on defense that played well. Jonathan Babineaux had two tackles, one sack and two quarterback hits. The other sacks came from Dwight Lowery, Ra’Shede Hageman, Corey Peters and the last one of the day by Biermann.
The Falcons scored a crucial late-second quarter touchdown right before halftime as Ryan led the team on a 15-play, 89-yard drive that ended on a shovel pass to Eric Weems from three yards out. Atlanta added to the lead with a 31-yard touchdown run by Devonta Freeman to give the Falcons a 20-7 lead.
The Saints battled back, however, but were stopped early in the fourth quarter by a great play from Falcons safety Kemal Ishmael, who again was in for the injured William Moore. Ishmael took away a touchdown from Jimmy Graham. It was a controversial call, as Graham seemed to break the plain before Ishmael got the ball.
Then later in the fourth quarter, with the Saints driving to try and take the lead, Robert McClain intercepted Brees. Atlanta went down the field and got a field goal to extend the lead to nine points.
Then, the icing on the cake, was the sack and subsequent fumble that was returned for the long touchdown as time expired on the clock.
Atlanta beat Carolina 19-17 on November 16 in Charlottte. They lost both games to the Panthers last season.
The Falcons have said all week they know what they have to do. They’ve done part one and now will hope for a strong home crowd to wrap up the NFC South next week against the Panthers.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Falcons beat Saints 30-14
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