Saints hand Falcons ninth loss of the year

It’s always a close contest when the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints go at it. And it was nothing different on Thursday night at the Georgia Dome when both teams played against each other for the second time this season. Matt Ryan was able to throw for nearly 300 yards and Steven Jackson had his best game as a Falcon, but it wasn’t enough as the Falcons fall to New Orleans 17-13.

“I felt like we played well in spurts,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “Again, there were some situations in situational football that we didn’t win. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the outcome that we wanted.”

The Falcons cored on every possession in the first half except for their final series. After forcing the Saints to go three-and-out to start the game, the Falcons took the lead with a 10-play, 76-yard drive, which resulted in a Jackson 1-yard touchdown run.

The Saints did answer on the ensuing drive, going 78 yards on 15 plays and that ended with a Drew Brees 1-yard touchdown pass to Ben Watson. The Falcons responded with a 7-play, 59-yard drive to start the second quarter. That resulted in a Bryant 39-yard field goal to give the Falcons the three-point lead. But it only took the Saints five plays to get back on top as Brees threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham. The Falcons were able to cut the Saints lead to one the next time they had possession when Bryant kicked a 24-yard field goal with 2:44 left in the half.

The Saints were able to increase their lead to four late in the third quarter when Garrett Hartley kicked a 41-yard field goal. This came on the heels of a Falcons three-and-out where the drive would have been kept alive if a wide open Darius Johnson was able to hold on Ryan pass on third down.

“That was a key play that I should have capitalized on,” Johnson said. “It was a little behind me, but that’s a catch I can make. I just didn’t catch it.”

But that was not the only mistake made by Johnson. The second mistake came in the fourth quarter when the Falcons were driving into Saints territory and Johnson fumbled a Ryan reception at the New Orleans 13-yard line.

“He made a good play on the ball. I didn’t see him,” Johnson added. “I should have had it tucked high and tight but he made a good play and knocked the ball out.”

Fortunately, the Falcons defense bailed Johnson out as they forced the Saints to punt. With the 7:53 left in the game, the Falcons were able to take five minutes off the clock and get into Saints territory. But a sack on Ryan by Cameron Jordan on second down and an incomplete pass on third down forced the Falcons to kick a field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-15. Bryant missed the 52-yard attempt and that led to the Saints running out the clock to seal the victory.

“Well, if we would have gotten some yardage on third down, it opens up your playbook,” Smith said on why he did not go for it on fourth down. “There is not a whole lot of great fourth and fifteen or fourth and fourteen plays.”

Smith said he liked the way his team fought all 60 minutes. And it showed as this was the first time in a month the Falcons did not lose by two scores or more. But the reason they could not win their first game in over a month is the offensive line could not protect Ryan consistently and they could not protect the football when they needed to.

“That was one of those things throughout the game [that plagued us,]” Ryan said talking about the five sacks and multiple hits he took in the loss. “We have to find ways to extend more drives and to score more points. “

Ryan did finish with a solid night through the air, completing 30 of his 39 passes with 292 yards. Jackson had his best game of the year with a season high 16 rushes for 63 yards and one score. And while Johnson did make a couple of mistakes, he did finish the night with six receptions for 67 yards.

The Falcons fall to 2-9 and have a 2-4 home record. This is the Falcons worst start since 2003 and the loss confirms the Falcons first losing season since 2007. They will look to break the losing streak when they face the Buffalo Bills in Toronto next Sunday.

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