The Falcons had a monkey on their backs. They know how to defeat teams, like the Carolina Panthers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and any other team that is not the New Orleans Saints.
However, it was a different story on Thursday night at the Georgia Dome as the Falcons dominated the Saints 23-13 and are one step closer of clinching the NFC South for the second time in three seasons.
“They’ve had our number,” Tony Gonzalez said talking about the Saints who had not lost to the Falcons at the Georgia Dome since 2008. “It feels good. It feels really, really good to out there at get that victory.”
It felt really good for the Falcons at the start of the game, as they put together a 6-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a Michael Turner 3-yard touchdown run. That series was something unusual for the Falcons because they only threw the ball one time and Turner gained 43 yards on the ground.
The Falcons jumped to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter when Matt Ryan hit Gonzalez for a 17-yard score. They were able to make it 17-0 later in the second quarter when Drew Brees pass was picked off by Sean Weatherspoon and that led to a Matt Bryant 45-yard field goal. That was Brees’ second pick of the night as he threw his first to Thomas DeCoud in the Falcons end zone on the Saints opening series.
“I can’t say enough about it,” Falcons head coach Mike Smith said about the defense’s performance. They made plays when the ball was in the air. That’s a very good quarterback that is normally a very efficient player and we are fortunate to take the ball away.”
On the Saints ensuing drive, they would score their only touchdown of the night when Mark Ingram ran from 1-yard out which ended an 11-play, 80-yard drive. After a Falcons three-and-out, the Saints got the ball back with two minutes left in the half and pushed the ball to the Falcons 5-yard line. But with no timeouts left the Saints could not get another play off and the half ended with the Falcons up by 10.
“That was huge, very big,” Smith said. We got off the field with no points in that situation because we were reeling a little bit in the second quarter. We were able to get that stop and they were out of timeouts.”
The Saints would make up for that lost possession at the start of the third quarter. They would put together another 80-yard drive which ended with a Garrett Hartley 21-yard field goal to cut the lead to seven.
After another Falcons three-and-out, the Saints would cut the lead to four when Hartley kicked a 52-yarder midway through the third.
The third quarter was a rough one for the Falcons to say the least. They only gained two first downs and netted 48 yards.
“We got to play better than that,” Tony Gonzalez said about the offense in the third quarter. “There are no excuses.”
The Falcons got things going late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter. Brees was picked off by William Moore with 2:38 left in the third and that led to a 7-play, 30-yard drive which ended with a Bryant 29-yard field goal. They got the lead back to 10 when the Bryant kicked a 55-yard field goal with 4:29 left in the fourth.
It was another big defensive play that set up that scoring drive when John Abraham sacked Brees at the Falcons 42-yard line on third-and-five.
“We made proper adjustments from when we played them a couple of weeks ago,” Abraham said.
On the Saints next drive, Brees was looking to push the ball down field, but his pass on third-and-10 was tipped by Kroy Biermann and intercepted by Jonathan Babineaux. However the Saints got the ball back when Turner fumbled at the Saints 28-yard line and was recovered by Rafael Bush.
But Brees gave the ball right back to the Falcons when he threw another pick to Moore and the offense was able to run out the clock.
“Defense was huge,” Ryan said who only had 165 passing yards and one touchdown. “To create five turnovers and to play the way they did against a very good offense says a lot about them.”
The Saints had more total yards than the Falcons, converted more third downs and won the time of possession by five minutes. But the Falcons were plus-4 in the turnover ratio and that ultimately determined the outcome of the game.
The Falcons are now 11-1 and can clinch the NFC South on Sunday if Tampa Bay loses to Denver. But they are not worried about what can happen this weekend.
“We still have four regular season games to go and we try and take them one game at a time, Ryan said. “We’re going to enjoy these couple of days off. After that we’re going to get back to work.
The Falcons next game will be against the Carolina Panthers on Dec. 9 at Bank of America Stadium.