Rivalry games make for the best football contests. Struggling Atlanta, losers of 4 straight, made a game of it before falling to the division leading Saints 17-13 at the Georgia Dome.
Atlanta’s first offensive series looked very much like their 2012 selves. After holding the Saints high powered offense to 3 and out, the Falcons mixed the run with the pass for a 10 play - 76 yard scoring drive. Stephen Jackson scored his second touchdown of the season diving over the top for the 1 yard score.
Before the shock could wear off the Saints tied the ball game. Drew Brees completed 7 of 11 passes including a 1 yarder to tight end Ben Watson for a touchdown.
Matt Bryant gave the lead back to the Falcons with a 39 yard field goal on the ensuing drive.
The lead lasted about 2 minutes. Brees found Falcons nemesis Jimmy Graham behind Falcons safety William Moore at the 15. Graham fought off Moore tumbling into the endzone. The former Hurricanes basketball player celebrated the touchdown with a two handed dunk over the goal post crossbar.
Atlanta appeared poised to answer the Saints score driving inside the redzone without encountering a third down. Once inside the 20, the inefficient 2-8 Falcons returned to the field. Two zero yardage downs left the Falcons in a familiar situation. A situation they struggled with all season. Flushed from the pocket on third and 10, Matt Ryan scrambled towards the endzone. With 10 yards to the endzone and 200lb safety Roman Harper standing on the two yard line, the scrambling 220lb Ryan pulled the parachute cord sliding down at the 4. A move that drew a plethora of boos from the crowd.
Bryant added another field goal from there to close the scoring gap to 1 point.
Saints kicker Garrett Hartley nailed a 41 yard field goal to make it a two score lead midway through the third.
Defense dominated the remainder of the game. With the Falcons driving, linebacker Keyunta Dawson came up with one of the key plays of the game. Dawson came up from behind Falcons receiver Dairus Johnson knocking the ball loose. Defensive back Corey White recovered the ball for the Saints stopping the Falcons potential go-ahead scoring drive.
“Plays like that are going to happen,” said Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith. “Unfortunately, it happened at a very bad time for our football team.”
Ryan and company were able to muster just one more drive into Saints territory but the drive stalled. The Saints defense recorded its fifth sack dragging down Ryan for a loss of 5 on second and 10. Ryan’s pass to Harry Douglas on third and 15 was incomplete setting up fourth and 15 with just 30 seconds before the two minute warning.
Rather than going for it on fourth and 15, Falcons Coach Mike Smith sent in Matt Bryant for a 52 yard field goal attempt. “There is not a whole lot of great fourth and fifteen or fourth and
fourteen plays,” reasoned Smith. “We felt like a field goal and then get an opportunity on the plus side of the two minute with three timeouts, get an opportunity to get the football back and field goal wins the game.”
His rationale nearly played out as the Falcons did get the ball back but with only five seconds remaining on the clock.
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