Falcons rally to beat Saints in season opener

Jimmy Cribb/Atlantafalcons.com

The Georgia Dome has seen its share of great games, especially when it comes to the Falcons. But there could not have been a more exciting game than the contest on Sunday when the Falcons took on the New Orleans Saints in the season opener on Sunday afternoon. In fact, it was so exciting and competitive that it went into overtime. And thanks to a Matt Bryant 52-yard field goal, the Falcons come away with a 37-34 win.

“I think that this game today lived up to the rivalry,” Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. “This is what the rivalry is all about. I thought that it was a very hard fought game, had to go beyond 60 minutes.”

The Saints were the favorite coming into the game and they wanted to take the Falcons out early as they jumped to a 13-0 lead. The Falcons finally got on the board late in the second quarter when Matt Ryan threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White. That was Ryan’s first of three touchdown passes and he’s now the franchise leader in touchdown passes. And with 448 yards passing in the win against the Saints, he’s now holds the franchise record for most passing yards in a regular season game.

“It’s a great honor,” Ryan said talking about the touchdown record which was previously held by Steve Bartkowski. “No one has more respect for Steve Bartkowski than I do and what he did for this organization. I’m very proud to be in good company.”

Drew Brees and company answered on the ensuing drive as he threw a 3-yard score to Brandin Cooks. But the Falcons answered right back when Ryan got the Falcons to the Saints 22-yard line and Byrant kicked a 40-yard field goal to cut the Saints lead to 10.

“There was a momentum shift at that point,” Ryan said. “Certainly, that is what we needed to win this game.”

That drive was vital for the Falcons because they started the second half with possession and were to put together a 12-play 80-yard drive that ended with a Ryan 1-yard touchdown pass to Levine Toilolo. The Falcons took the lead later in the quarter when Ryan threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Antone Smith. The scoring drive was made possible because Brees threw an interception to Robert McClain in the end zone.

However, Brees made up for his error at the start of the fourth quarter when he led the Saints to a 12-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a Mark Ingram 3-yard score. But the Falcons took back the lead later in the quarter when Jacquizz Rodgers scored from 17 yards out.

Despite having only less than three minutes on the clock, that was enough time for Brees to do some work. And he did just that as he was able to lead the Saints down field and Ingram scored form three yards out to give the Saints the lead with 1:20 left.

But that was more than enough time for Ryan to go to work. He led the Falcons to the Saints 33-yard line and that led to a Bryant 51-yard field goal to take the game into overtime.

Saints won the toss in overtime and elected to start with possession. It didn’t go according to plan because when Brees completed a pass to Marques Colston, William Moore stripped the ball from him and it was recovered by Joplo Bartu. That led to the Bryant 52-yard to win the contest.

“We talk about Matt (Ryan) and all the offensive plays that we made, but if that guy doesn’t do that there at the end of regulation and there in the overtime, kick the ball from 50-plus yards, it’s going to be a different outcome,” Smith said talking about Bryant. “Our guy put it through the pipes and that the difference in the game.”

The Falcons made their share of mistakes. The defense allowed 427 yards of offense, the let the Saints convert 62 percent of third-down conversions and they committed 10 penalties for 96 yards. But they won the turnover battle, they tallied 568 yards of total offense and they were efficient in the red zone. This win was a good start for the Falcons moving forward, but Smith knows that it’s a long season and they are on to the next opponent.

“There were a number of things that were very well played, and there were some things that we got to get fixed – offense, defense, special teams and coaching.” Smith said. “We’ll get those things fixed and we’ll move on to the Cincinnati Bengals.”

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