The notion that all streaks come to an end is as true as death and income taxes. For Saints fans, April 15, is far more welcomed than having their four game winning streak over the Atlanta Falcons end. By the look on some of the faces of New Orleans fans in the stands, the 23-13 loss Thursday night in the Georgia Dome was about as close to death anyone breathing wants to get.
On the other side of that coin, the win was a hair shy of nirvana for Atlanta Falcons fans. “Tonight that was a really good win for our football team,” said Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith.
Along with ending the Saints win streak, the Falcons ended Drew Brees’ streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass. Brees attempted 50 passes completing 33 of them, 5 of them to Falcons defenders. “Five interceptions against one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, that’s an amazing feeling,” said Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson. “We knew if we could get up in these receivers’ faces that we had a chance to dominate the football game.”
The domination started on the Falcons first drive. Atlanta put together a 6 play, 80 yard drive for a touchdown on their first possession. Michael Turner carried three times for 43 yards and the score.
Matt Ryan added a 17 yard touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez in the opening minute of the second quarter to cap a 5 play 49 yard drive. Gonzalez went up over former Falcons and current Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton. Ryan passed for just 165 yards on 18 completions out of 33 attempts.
New Orleans gave up three more points on a 45 yard Matt Bryant field goal before finally getting on the board. Brees and company put together an 80 yard drive built largely around a tremendous 32 yard catch by Lance Moore between two defenders. Mixing up the pass and run kept the Falcons defense off balance. Pierre Thomas nearly scored on a 10 yard run until an official review ruled the Saints running back’s knee was down prior to the ball crossing the goal line. Backfield-mate Mark Ingram carried it in from the half yard line.
The Saints mounted another potential scoring drive before the end of the first half but ran out of time inside the Atlanta 10 yard line. It was a mistake breeze would later regret. “Honestly I thought we had more time than we did,” said Brees. “Last time I looked at the clock I saw 17 seconds and next thing you know I thought we had time to throw one underneath and clock it but then the clock was down to 7 when I looked back up and that wasn’t enough time to get the strike. That’s my mistake.
Every good rivalry has its ebbs and flows in momentum. The second half of the game proved just that. New Orleans tightened up the distance scoring on their first two drives of the third quarter.
As the momentum swung over to the black and gold visitors so did the volume of the Saints fan base in attendance. In his pre-game charge, Brees shouted to his team, “This is our division. We know it and they know it.” The pep talk may have been alluding to the four game winning streak the Saints were attempting to preserve over the Falcons. Dating back to 2007, New Orleans had won 6 of 7 matchups with Atlanta that were decided by 7 points or less. They had been here before but so had the Falcons. “I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say thoughts of going that way, and getting a loss again even though we jumped out to that lead; it crept up in our minds,” said Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez. Well, at least my mind on the sideline. I still had faith.”
Faith in his teammate’s ability to make plays perhaps? With two interceptions already under their belt, Gonzalez had every reason to have faith in the Atlanta defense.
Falcons’ safety William Moore proved him right stepping inside of Devery Henderson to pick off Brees for the third time in the game and setup the first score of the second half. Atlanta got as far as the 11 yard line before settling for Bryant’s second field goal of the game to push the lead to seven. Bryant came back a series later to nail a herculean 55 yarder and extend the lead to 10.
Down two scores and less than 5 minutes to play, the Saints Brees went to the air. Only this time the Falcons defense was up to the challenge. Defensive lineman Kroy Biermann grabbed Brees from behind forcing an awkward throw that landed in the hands of Jonathan Babineaux.
Game over, right? Not by a long shot. After one of his most productive games in a long time, Michael Turner fumbled the ball back to the Saints. The Saints were given yet another chance to go for a miracle. One Corey Peters nearly snuffed out snatching a short pass intended for Darren Sproles. A penalty on Jon Abraham for leaving to early nullified the interception.
The penalty only postponed the inevitable. On the very next play, Moore picked off Brees for his second time, the fifth overall, closing out the game and any hopes of a Saints miracle comeback.
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