Things looked bleak on multiple occasions for the Falcons on Thursday night.
Drew Brees sliced through Dan Quinn’s defense on the opening drive, although they were able to hold the Saints offense to just a field goal. Matt Ryan looked completely disjointed at times — tossing one of the worst interceptions of 2017 during a two-minute drill to end the half. He then proceeded to throw two of his next three passes to the Saints as well.
Despite Alvin Kamara’s exit due to a concussion, New Orleans taking home their 10th win of the year looked like a foregone conclusion. Mark Ingram was running hard, and Michael Thomas continuously torched a talented secondary. Marshon Lattimore returned from injury, and was a recipient of one of Ryan’s gift-wrapped interceptions. The broken play caused an explosion from the typically tranquil Julio Jones.
Hmm. The Saints strategy of drafting Buckeyes appears to be paying dividends. Marshon Lattimore continues to show he’s already an elite DB in the league. pic.twitter.com/uiTUhTJLtl
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) December 8, 2017
The Falcons never appeared to be in control of the game. As such, it illustrates why it was so important for Atlanta to come out with a victory.
Ryan was not good for most of the night — particularly in the red zone. The three-interception outing was his second such performance of the year. Jones extended his scoreless streak versus the Saints to nine straight games. Austin Hooper had a couple of egregious drops. Devonta Freeman had a few nice runs, but the Falcons’ running back duo were mostly limited. Defensive end/outside linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. also had virtually no impact.
Wasting no time.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) December 8, 2017
No single player on the reigning NFC Champions can be attributed for this win, but they still found a way in becoming victorious. Pulling out tough games like this is the mark of a successful football team.
After trailing by a touchdown late in the third quarter, Atlanta put together consecutive scoring drives to take a 20-17 lead. A Deion Jones interception in the red zone would seal New Orleans’ fate, and pulled the Falcons within one game of the NFC South lead.
Offensively, the Falcons are a shell of their 2016-selves. They had lame showings against the Patriots and Vikings. Ryan hasn’t had a 3+ touchdown game this year (after recording seven such games in 2016). Jones is on pace to set a career low in touchdowns. Speedster Taylor Gabriel has taken a step back (Steve Sarkisian’s vanilla offense and Ryan’s inability to throw the ball downfield deserve equal blame). Despite the clear regression, the Falcons, somehow, control their own destiny.
If the Falcons win the last three games on their schedule, they will clinch the NFC South title. The fact that they even have a chance to clinch a playoff spot — let alone win the division — is remarkable following their 4-4 start. It’s even more surprising when you consider how well both the Panthers (8-3) and Saints (8-2) started their seasons.
Winning out is obviously easier said than done. They’ll get the Saints again, and this time it’ll be at the Superdome. Another win over New Orleans will grant the Falcons any tiebreakers in the event the two teams end with the same record. Before that though, the Falcons travel to Tampa Bay to take on the plummeting Buccaneers. Atlanta ends the year at home against the Panthers — a game that will surely have playoff implications one way or another.
Any team that has hopes of making the Super Bowl needs a few lucky breaks to fall in their favor. That’s what last night’s game was for the Falcons — a lucky break. If they can find a way to win their last three games, the Falcons will be a team not to be trifled with entering the playoffs. Their win over New Orleans has created waves across the NFL landscape, and has greatly increased their chances of avenging last year’s Super Bowl defeat.
Sources: Twitter/Saints, Twitter/11W, Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports