On Sunday afternoon, the New Orleans Saints looked to win their second game in a row and maintain a shot at an NFC Wild Card berth. There are always several key things that need to go right for a win, and Sunday was no different for the Black and Gold.
One of the key moments of the game was they diving pass breakup by Jabari Greer on 4th and 1 with 1:42 left to go. With a game against the very beatable Oakland Raiders upcoming and a tilt against the possibly Alex Smith-less 49ers, the Saints could very well be 6-5 before they face the Atlanta Falcons again at the end of the month.
Rushing Yards: A longstanding rule of thumb is that the team that wins the battle of rushing yards usually wins the game. Sunday was no different, as Chris Ivory, Pierre Thomas, and Mark Ingram ran all over the Falcons on Sunday to the tune of 149 yards. Ivory had a key 56 yard run in the first quarter to cut the early 10-0 Falcons lead to just 3 points. Chris Ivory’s first run inflated his stats a bit, as he finished the day with 72 yards on just 7 rushes for a 10.3 average. Mark Ingram didn’t have any spectacular runs, but he was very solid, finishing with 67 yards on 16 rushes. That was good for a 4.2 average. Pierre Thomas had just 5 rushes for 10 yards with a long of 4 yards, but still contributed towards the 149-yard total.
Late Game Management: I don’t really like count the touchdown that the Falcons scored in the 4th quarter as part of the 4th, because the drive was half over by the end of the 3rd quarter. Either way, this is about late-game management, so let’s look at that. After Matt Ryan completed a 52 yard bomb to Julio Jones with 11:10 left to go in the game, I thought for sure the Falcons would take momentum and potentially even put the game out of reach. However, they couldn’t punch it in from the 5 yard line. The worst call of this drive in my mind was giving the ball to Michael Turner, who had struggled all day. As was common on the day, he ran for no gain. After a 3 yard completion to Jacquizz Rodgers, Matt Ryan failed on a 3rd down throw, and the Falcons were forced to settle for a Matt Bryant 20-yard field goal.On the Saints next drive, Drew Brees had a huge pass to Jimmy Graham, but the Saints could get no closer than the Atlanta 12 before a Garrett Hartley 31-yard field goal. The score stood at 31-27 with just 5:54 left on the clock. A Thomas Moorstead touchback meant that the Atlanta Falcons would have to drive 80 yards for a go-ahead score, a feat easier said than done even against the league’s worst D. 4 first downs later, the Falcons found themselves at the New Orleans 10 with 2:26 left to play. A 9-yard completion to Harry Douglas made it look like the Dirty Birds would put the game away with right around 2 minutes left to play.
After an incompletion by Matt Ryan and a 1 yard loss for Michael Turner, the Falcons had to decide on a play that would get them the remaining 2 yards. Yet again, a run by Turner when he’d failed all day, seemed highly unlikely, meaning that the Saints could play press coverage and look for a tipped pass. That’s exactly what happened, as Jabari Greer tipped a would-be touchdown pass away with just 1:42 to play.
The New Orleans Saints decided to play it very conservatively given the fact that they were at their own 2. Three rushes netted just 2 yards, but took 1:05 off the clock before a Thomas Morstead punt to the Atlanta 41, good for 55 yards. To add insult to injury, Harry Douglas committed a 10-yard penalty that placed the ball at the 31, with just 37 seconds left on the clock. Other than a 9-yard reception, the Falcons couldn’t move the ball, and again missed on a 4th down try. Worst of all was the lack of effort on a deep ball intended for Roddy White on the final drive, which would’ve almost certainly been the winning score.Pass Drops/Deflections: Drew Brees had 11 misfires on the day, and 6 passes deflected, 3 by Asante Samuel. Samuel also intercepted Brees’ first pass of the day. Matt Ryan threw 20 more passes than Brees, both because of a late comeback try, and the ineffectiveness of the team’s rushing attack. He had 18 incompletions, and 11 of those incompletions were because of deflections. 5 drops by Saints receivers aren’t seemingly all that much, but still significant enough that I’m sure they’ll get some heat for it this week. The Falcons dropped 7, and I’ll include Roddy White’s lack of route running in there too, because he certainly cost his team the game by not running all out a couple times.
Points Off Turnovers: Not only did the Atlanta Falcons fail to score a touchdown on their forced turnover, but they also committed a 15 yard penalty. They did score 3 on a Matt Bryant 37-yard field goal, however. The New Orleans Saints were much more disciplined and efficient on their drive after Corey White‘s interception. After big plays by Lance Moore and Chris Ivory, Drew Brees hit Marques Colston for a 7-yard touchdown. Points off TOs were key, as the Saints got 7, and the Falcons had to settle for 3, a 4-point margin that proved to be the ultimate margin of victory in the game.
It’s the little things that the New Orleans Saints are doing right that have me thinking that they’ve not only turned their season around, but also that they have found themselves and are probably on their way towards a playoff spot. Now, I don’t want to jinx things here, but I them winning 6 of their remaining 7 games, with the loss either coming against the Falcons or Buccaneers.