Undisciplined. Ineffective. Inaccurate. Uninspiring.
The 1-7 Falcons have lived those words for the entirety of their miserable first half of the 2019 season, but on Sunday, they communicated their disease to an unexpected victim — the 7-1 New Orleans Saints.
Yeah, it’s always risky to make sweeping seasonal judgments based on one game — much less a bitter rivalry game — but man, the Saints’ 26-9 loss to the Falcons was one of those defeats that’s so ugly it makes you reconsider New Orleans’ whole season to this point.
Conventional wisdom held that New Orleans owned the inside track to the NFC championship, a team so balanced that Drew Brees is one of many weapons rather than the centerpiece. On the other side of the ball, the Falcons were one of the year’s biggest disappointments, a team possessing a transcendent receiver and a former MVP QB, but couldn’t figure out how to play defense. The only question coming into the game was whether the Saints could lay three figures on the Falcons.
It didn’t quite work out that way. This wasn’t a case of Atlanta hanging around and getting lucky on a miracle play. No, the Saints faltered in all three phases of the game, with inconsistent defense, sketchy offense and mind-numbing special teams mistakes.
“Pick a situation, there’s a good chance they were better in that situation,” Payton said after the game. “Third down, both sides of the ball. Penalties, they were better. Collectively, we’ve got to do a better job. That starts with me.”
The Falcons owned time of possession, controlling the ball for nearly 34 minutes of the game.
When Brees threw, the Falcons kept him contained. It’s rare that Brees throws 45 times and doesn’t sniff 300 yards, but that was exactly what happened Sunday. More concerning: the Saints were 3-for-12 on third-down conversions and 0-for-3 on fourth-down attempts. The Saints fell short in big moments, going 0-for-3 on goal-to-go plays and 0-for-3 in the red zone.
Before Sunday, Atlanta had recorded all of seven sacks through the first half of the season, dead last in the NFL. The Falcons then proceeded to sack Brees six times. Slap 12 New Orleans penalties on top of that, and it’s very tough to win.
New Orleans fattened up its record with recent wins over the Bucs, Bears, Jags and Cardinals, and after this game, it’s worth asking if the Saints aren’t as good as their record. In all likelihood, New Orleans will be just fine going forward. The Saints won’t face a quarterback of Ryan’s quality for the rest of the year, aside from the game they’ll play against Ryan himself on Thanksgiving. The Saints have heavyweights like Tampa Bay, Carolina (twice), Tennessee and Indianapolis still ahead; their toughest regular-season game remaining is San Francisco on Dec. 8.
But then the playoffs start. The kind of effort New Orleans put forth Sunday won’t have the Saints playing for long. New Orleans has seen its last two seasons end in dramatic, ugly fashion in the playoffs; they’ll have to forget all about everything that went wrong on Sunday to avoid that fate yet again.
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