The Atlanta Falcons played by the script that has haunted them against NFC South rival New Orleans Saints for the last decade: play the Saints tight, make some great plays, and ultimately come up short. Unfortunately for Atlanta, a tight contest with New Orleans ended in disappointment once again, as a fourth down pass from Matt Ryan, who threw for 304 yards and two touchdowns in the game, from the Saints’ three yard line was intercepted in the end zone with just 0:43 left in the fourth quarter, handing New Orleans a 23-17 victory to open the 2013 season.
Although the Falcons are obviously disappointed with a loss to start the season (especially considering all the grief that is to come from Who Dat Nation), Atlanta had several positives in the game. Other than the interception on the final play—which was essentially Ryan trying to turn nothing into something with little time to spare—Ryan showed why he is the face and future of the Falcons’ franchise, coming up big time and time again despite a less-than-stellar game from the offensive line “protecting” him.
Along with a good game from Ryan came a fairly decent first game for veteran running back Steven Jackson, who showed he’s still got it with a fifty-yard run in the third quarter and several nice catches out of the backfield, a new dynamic that will be probably be utilized quite a bit for the Falcons in 2013. Jackson would finish the game with 77 rushing yards along with 3 receiving yards.
While Atlanta’s offense for the most part looked solid, the team’s defense still has a lot of work to do in order to be considered elite. The Falcons were fortunate to get several big plays early in the contest from the likes of Robert McClain and Robert Alford, but as the game wore on the Falcons’ secondary became very weak, as Saints quarterback Drew Brees picked them apart time and time again to the tune of 357 yards in the four quarters of play. Despite the departure of such pass coverage duds as Dunta Robinson in the past offseason, the Falcons still lacked the ability to make Brees work for his completions, which is also partly the defensive line’s inability to consistently put pressure on the former Boilermaker quarterback (when it was all said and done the Falcons had 2 sacks). Call it an issue due to the season just starting or one caused by playing such an outstanding offense, but it’s clear that play like this throughout the season would hurt Atlanta’s chances at winning the NFC South again.
The Falcons will have to wipe the loss from their focus and begin to prepare for next week’s game at home against the St. Louis Rams, which will feature Steven Jackson facing off with the team who had employed him for the last nine seasons. Overlooked due to sharing the same division as the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks, Jeff Fisher’s Rams squad is not by any means a cupcake and head into Sunday’s matchup with a 1-0 record thanks to a 27-24 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. It will be very interesting to see if the Falcons struggle to slow down Sam Bradford and the Rams’ air attack, which seems to be the team’s focus due to a running back stable that is not exactly Pro Bowl-esque.
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