NEW ORLEANS – The calendar screams that it’s too early for grand proclamations. Week three games in the NFL don’t decide division titles or playoff berths. They merely give us some sense of direction.
But we just learned something about the Falcons.
They won a game against the defending Super Bowl champions. They won a game on the road and in the Superdome, where they hadn’t won since 2002. They had a 19-play touchdown drive that tested their resilience. They had a field goal drive in overtime when the offensive line assumed control of the game.
More? They had a kicker, Matt Bryant, who had to try three times for a winning field goal because his first two attempts were negated by penalties. They had a defensive end, John Abraham, who came back into the game late despite being relatively blinded in one eye.
Is that a strong enough indication of direction?
The Falcons defeated the New Orleans Saints in overtime Sunday, 27-24. Had they lost, they still would have been publicly embraced for their performance. Instead, they won, and their stature grew.
“No moral victories. No more of those for us. We’re done with that,” Roddy White said.
“We could have easily flinched or been talking about what-ifs,” linebacker Mike Peterson said.
There were enough of those last season. The Falcons fell short too many times in a season that had high expectations. They lost two close games to the Saints, and in overtime to New York, and were body slammed in Dallas.
On Sunday, we saw the team we expected last year. It felt more like 2008. So it wasn’t surprising when owner Arthur Blank was asked if he remembered the last Falcons’ victory of such significance and he responded: “When we beat the Vikings two years ago to go to the playoffs.”
The Falcons were only average in their opening loss at Pittsburgh. They were far better last week, blowing out Arizona. But New Orleans was a bigger test on a bigger stage. They responded. They looked committed.
Start with Abraham. With the Falcons leading 24-21 and the Saints driving in the final three minutes, the defensive end was poked in the right eye, suffering a scratched pupil. He suffered from double-vision. But he came out for only a few plays.
“They were like, ‘Are you done?’” Abraham said. “But you can’t come out of a game like this. I had one good eye. All I had to do was get around the end.”
This is how you tell something about a football team. The Falcons trailed 7-0 after only three minutes. But the defense intercepted Drew Brees twice in the first half, and the second one turned into that 19-play touchdown drive (including two fourth-down conversions) that tied the game at 14-14.
Trailing again at 21-17, Matt Ryan hit White for a 22-yard score. Then the Saints tied it. They looked like they would win it, only to have kicker Garrett Hartley miss a 29-yard field goal try.
The Falcons had one more chance to will themselves to a victory, and they did. They ran the ball eight straight plays from their own 41 with Michael Turner and Jason Snelling, setting up Bryant for a 41-yard attempt.
His first attempt was blocked. But the Saints had just called timeout. His second attempt was good. But the Falcons were flagged for false start. His third attempt was perfect.
The Falcons celebrated but tried to keep the party in check. It was just one win in the third week of a long season. As Peterson said, “There’s no reason to start printing T-shirts and organizing a parade.”
But if this season turns into something special, remember when they started building the floats.