The Saints had beaten the Falcons 11 of the past 13 times, and the mental toll that kind of domination had taken was mounting. Those only two wins had come in Matt Ryan’s rookie season at home, and in an overtime thriller in New Orleans during the 2010 season in which the Saints kicker missed two chip-shot field goals. As bad as 11 of 13 is, people weren’t giving one iota of credit to the Falcons for those two wins. The pressure was building.
On Thursday night, in front of a nationally televised audience, the Falcons were finally able to exorcise those demons. They were able to win a division game against their most hated rival to all but seal the division championship, as well as decimating the playoff hopes of the hated Saints.
The Falcons didn’t do it in the way many expected them to. Most of the experts expected a high scoring affair, similar to the one that took place in Week 9 in New Orleans when the Falcons lost 31-27. I’ll admit, I was one of those who expected a 31-30 Falcons victory: a bunch of points by both teams, decided on who got the ball last. I expected the Falcons to move the ball really well, and only minimally slow down Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints offense.
The opposite happened. The Atlanta offense did some really good things early, scoring a touchdown on their first possession of the game, and getting out to an early 17-0 lead. But aside from the drives they actually scored points, they didn’t move the ball particularly well. It’s disappointing that they struggled so much against an absolutely dreadful New Orleans defense. It’s mostly due to Matt Ryan’s inability to find rhythm all day long.
While Ryan was less than spectacular, Brees was downright terrible, and the Falcons defense really made him pay. The Falcons defense picked off Brees five times, including a pair of game, sealing interceptions by strong safety William Moore. The biggest thing that the Falcons defense did was prevent Brees from throwing a touchdown pass, something that hasn’t happened in the Saints last 54 regular season games.
A major reason for the high number of ill-advised and off-target throws by Brees is due to the great pressure generated by the Falcons defensive front. Yes, the Falcons only sacked Brees once (it was a huge sack by Abraham by the way), but they hit him six total times, and forced him out of the pocket, to throw on the run, and he wasn’t able to throw extremely accurate passes that way. The edge rush from Kroy Biermann and John Abraham combined with interior pressure from Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters made all the difference in the world for Atlanta.
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is making one heck of a difference for this Falcons team. In past seasons, this defense would call very vanilla coverages, the pass-rush wouldn’t get to Brees, and he’s picked apart the Atlanta D. By being slightly unpredictable, and playing very disciplined within that scheme, the players are always in a better position to make plays, and have fun doing so. It really paid off against Brees as they forced him into 5 turnovers.
The biggest thing to take away is that the Falcons have gotten another victory against their arch nemesis, the New Orleans Saints. It doesn’t erase the history of the rivalry, but it’s a sign of good things to came. It gives hope to Falcons fans the world over, because it proves that the final word in this rivalry isn’t written. The Falcons can impose their will in the next 13 meetings, and dominate the Saints. Not to say that it will happen, but it certainly can. Atlanta fans should take heart in that.