Saints-Falcons: What we learned
Updated On: Sep 08 2013 08:40:29 PM CDT
NEW ORLEANS -- Exiled from the NFL sidelines for 20 months for his role in the Bountygate scandal, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton exacted a measure of revenge Sunday.
Payton made a triumphant return and continued his mastery over the Atlanta Falcons with a 23-17 victory at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
In keeping with the competitive nature of the rivalry -- where seven of the previous 10 meetings had come down to the final possession -- this one followed suit.
Safety Roman Harper sealed the victory for the much-maligned Saints defense, which last year gave up the most yards in NFL history (7,042), by intercepting a deflected Matt Ryan pass in the end zone with 43 seconds left, blunting what looked like a miracle Atlanta rally.
"We kind of knew this game would be back and forth," said Payton, whose last official game on an NFL sideline was an NFC divisional playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers in January 2012. "We knew this could come down to the last possession."
It did. Trailing 23-17, the Falcons took over at their 20 with 3:12 left. Ryan, who earlier had completed a 7-yard scoring pass to tight end Tony Gonzalez and a 4-yard score to wide receiver Julio Jones, connected on five consecutive throws to get the ball to the Saints' 7 with 1:10 left.
On first down, he threw high in the left corner for Harry Douglas, and on second down he threw a 4-yard pass in the right flat to Roddy White.
The Falcons' best chance to score came on third down, but Steven Jackson, normally a reliable receiver, let a touchdown pass bang off his chest under pressure from linebacker Ramon Humber.
Playing a fourth-and-goal from the 3, Ryan had to backpedal in the pocket due to heavy pressure by linebacker Curtis Lofton, an ex-Falcon. Ryan saw Gonzalez over the middle, but he couldn't get a lot on the pass. Rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro got a finger on the ball, and the pass deflected through Gonzalez's waiting hands at the goal-line and Harper secured it.
What the Saints said
"It's great for them. Obviously, they had a lot of criticism last year, and then we brought in (defensive coordinator) Rob Ryan and installed a new scheme. It's been a crazy offseason. They are playing together and gaining an identity. We're going to be a touch bunch." -- Quarterback Drew Brees on the new-look defense
What the Falcons said
"The biggest thing about being a professional is putting it behind you. We'll evaluate our mistakes and make the corrections we need to make." -- Quarterback Matt Ryan
Two things we learned about the Saints:
1. It isn't 2012 anymore in New Orleans. As historically bad as the Saints' defense was last year -- allowing an NFL record 7,042 yards in 16 games -- defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's new 3-4 scheme took a quantum leap forward against a very good offense. The Saints didn't use a lot of exotic blitzes, relying on three- and four-man rushes. But they allowed Atlanta just 367 total yards and 3-of-11 (27 percent) on third down. The Falcons were No. 2 in the NFL last year in third-down efficiency (45 percent). "Whenever you rush just four guys, you can get a lot of guys in the passing lanes and make it very difficult for the quarterback," Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "Hats off to the guys up front. I could just feel the difference from last year. We were confident. Everybody was sure (of their assignments) and went out and did their jobs."
2. Marques Colston is one of the classiest receivers in the league. Colton eclipsed Eric Martin's franchise record of 532 career receptions with a diving 25-yard catch on a seam route from Drew Brees. "He made a great catch in coming down with it," Brees said. "That was vintage Marques Colston. It's awesome. He came in here eight years ago as a seventh-round pick and didn't know he would make the team after mini-camp, and on opening day he was a starting wide receiver. I've got so much trust and confidence in him."
What we learned about the Falcons
1. Quarterback Matt Ryan will have to get better protection if Atlanta is going to continue to make noise on offense. Ryan was constantly on the run inside and outside the pocket, and the Saints' defense is not a version of the 1985 Bears. Ryan was sacked three times but was hurried into several throwaways behind his young, reconfigured offensive line.
2. The Falcons have only themselves to blame for not getting a victory -- or at least a last-second touchdown. Both Steven Jackson and Tony Gonzalez let passes slip through their hands that could have resulted in scores on the Falcons' final two plays. "That's the way it is in this league -- when the game comes down to the wire, you have to make plays," Ryan said. "We didn't make the plays and they did, and the outcome is what it is."