Forget loss — defense proves Falcons ready for playoffs

John Abraham has 13 sacks -- and added a rare interception Monday -- to lead Falcons' defense.

John Abraham has 13 sacks (and added an interception Monday) to lead Falcons' defense.

FLOWERY BRANCH – For the first time in more than 10 weeks, it was the day after a Falcons’ loss Tuesday.

Cleansing breath.

Who knew this season would bring about such an adjustment period?

As you look to get grounded again, here’s your focal point: A three-point loss to the defending Super Bowl champions who probably were just a little more desperate for a victory probably doesn’t constitute a collapse. Nor does it alter the power structure in the NFL’s playoff field. As coach Mike Smith said again Tuesday, the day after a 17-14 loss to New Orleans: “There’s 15 other teams [in the NFC] who would love to trade places with us,” and I think we can assume that includes the next opponent, Carolina (2-13).

Truth is, we know now pretty much what we knew before Monday’s loss. The Falcons and Saints are dead even. It’s not bad to be dead even with the defending champions. Also, Philadelphia, Chicago, Green Bay are all conference threats to get to the Super Bowl — not a revelation. And in games when Michael Turner (2.8 yards per carry) can’t run, the Falcons’ offense tends to shut down.

But the loss to the Saints wasn’t a horrible sign for the future. The Falcons can still achieve all of their regular-season goals — NFC South title, first-round bye, No. 1 seed — just by beating Carolina, and that game plan usually entails little more than having a pulse.

In fact, notwithstanding Smith’s position that “nothing good ever comes from losing,” there were some fairly significant positives. Some of the areas that we questioned about this team might have been answered, particularly on defense. Offense was a problem Monday, but occasional criticism of offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey notwithstanding, scoring generally hasn’t been the problem this season (the Falcons are fifth in points: 25.5).

Sounds strange. But I feel better about this team now than I did before the New Orleans game.

Consider:

– Despite the Saints’ 90-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes Monday, the Falcons’ secondary has been strong. They make plays. Pass defense figured to be an issue this season. But with the meteoric rise of Brent Grimes and the short learning curve of safety William Moore, it’s now a strength. Surprisingly, the biggest question mark is $57 million cornerback Dunta Robinson. Here’s your stat of the year: Four linemen — John Abraham, Chauncey Davis, Jonathan Babineaux, Kroy Biermann — each have more interceptions (1) than Robinson (0). (Smith said Robinson is “coming along” after missing training camp with a hamstring strain. Can you still be “coming along” in Week 16?)

– The pass rush pressured New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees all game (though he was sacked only once because of eight missed opportunities, when pass rushers overran him). Abraham and Babineaux in particular have been strong. Abraham has 13 sacks, the second-highest total of his career. There is no better sign for the Falcons’ postseason fortunes than Abraham.

– Monday’s game was extremely winnable. Two Falcons fumbles led to one New Orleans touchdown and prevented an Atlanta touchdown. Michael Jenkins dropped a touchdown pass (albeit, drawing a pass-interference penalty in process).

Finally, there was the decision of coach Mike Smith to punt on fourth-and-six with 2:52 left, leading to the Saints running out the clock. Smith didn’t second-guess himself on that Tuesday, though he acknowledged that the Falcons’ defense (which allowed the Saints to get two first downs and run out the clock) might have been fatigued in that 90-yard drive: “We ended up playing 75 snaps on defense, and that’s a lot of snaps. In the average game, you’re playing 60.”

Some skeptics believed the Saints would expose the Falcons. They didn’t. Monday’s loss changes nothing. This team looks ready to take the next step.

Just don’t lose to Carolina.

408 comments Add your comment

DJ Sniper

December 28th, 2010
5:47 pm

I’m not panicking over this loss, but there have to be some adjustments on offense. Mike Mularkey’s play calling is going to be the death of us in the playoffs. What is it about him and his lack of creativity???? Why does he keep trying to run Michael Turner through holes that aren’t there? Why does he not have Matt Ryan take more deep shots down the field when we have the weapons to do so? He needs to call more games like the one he did against the Bengals. If we can combine that offensive output with the defensive effort from last night, we will be dangerous.

Denver Falcon

December 28th, 2010
5:48 pm

I’m ready for Sunday – the road to the Super Bowl STILL goes thru ATL

UGAKEV

December 28th, 2010
5:49 pm

Amen Shultz…..GO FALCONS!!!

Brad Komminsk

December 28th, 2010
5:55 pm

If the Falcons somehow lose on Sunday (and if history has taught us anything, it’s that Atlanta professional sports teams always fold in must-win games – Game 6 of the 95 WS is the only exception), they will almost certainly be one and done in the playoffs. Clearly they understood the importance of that game last night, and they made numerous blunders and mistakes, costing themselves a chance to rest key players. This season is quickly unraveling.

ATL FAN

December 28th, 2010
5:57 pm

The offense was the worst I’ve seen it all year, we didn’t use Tony G at all to get those good 5 yard plays going, we only went long to Roddy a couple of times, and we KEPT on running the ball when nothing was there, putting us in 3rd and long situations over and over. The offense needs to be more aggressive, but the defense was spectacular against one of the most explosive offenses in the league. GO FALCONS!!

Sonny Clusters

December 28th, 2010
6:00 pm

We was always ready to take the next step.

D A Double U G

December 28th, 2010
6:00 pm

Schultz,

I would set the over/under at 4,for the number of articles you would have written today had UGA lost in Shreveport yesterday.

Helping Tech sweep that one under the rug huh???

Mack1124

December 28th, 2010
6:06 pm

Your right, Schultz our defense was great last night however, I’m still not over the loss, watching 48 Hours instead of NFL Network or ESPN.

DJ Sniper

December 28th, 2010
6:07 pm

Brad Komminsk, are you serious???? Unraveling is NOT the word to use to describe this season. After our other two losses this season, people would come in here and predict doom and gloom for the Falcons, but that did not happen. This is not the Falcons of old.

Wright

December 28th, 2010
6:11 pm

ATL sports franchises have always choked on the big game and will continue to do so. ATL just does not know how to WIN.

Courage

December 28th, 2010
6:17 pm

The Bears had clinched their division yet played with highly spirited and aggressive offensive game throwing the ball down field throughout and defeated a must win Jets team. The Falcons, still not having clinched their division, played with an offensive game plan as if they were defending a 30 point lead and trying to run out the clock.

The difference? Mike Martz versus Mike Mularkey as an offensive coordinator!

Throw in Mike Smith’s surrender call on 4th and 6th and you have a recipe for playoff failure looming in a few short weeks.

I’d turn all the play calling over to Matt Ryan–ALL of it!

Najeh Davenpoop

December 28th, 2010
6:17 pm

“Monday’s game was extremely winnable. Two Falcons fumbles led to one New Orleans touchdown and prevented an Atlanta TD. Michael Jenkins dropped a touchdown pass (albeit, drawing a pass interference penalty in process). There’s a 21-point swing right there in a three-point game.”

And at least 4 games this season were extremely loseable.

You win some, you lose some… especially when you are a methodical, grind-it-out team like the Falcons and every game is close.

Ted Striker

December 28th, 2010
6:18 pm

Grimes continues to impress, Abraham looks 7 years younger, Weems is still making plays on returns AND coverage. The O will be fine but the line needs to block because it’s hard to make positive yardage when someone is touching you 2 yards deep in your own backfield.

I, too, have been asking…”when is D. Robinson gonna show up?” Right now Robinson looks a bit like DeAngelo Hall, sans mouth & attitude.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Paul Snyder and others. Paul Snyder said: Agreed. RT @JeffSchultzAJC: Forget loss — defense proves Falcons ready for playoffs http://bit.ly/eoXhoK [...]

Alpha 9

December 28th, 2010
6:43 pm

you realize because of Duntae Robinson is the only reason Grimes is proving to the rest of the world what Falcons fans already knew..You didn’t sign Deion Sanders even though Robinson cuts the field in half

ATL FAN

December 28th, 2010
6:47 pm

Ted, how is Robinson like D Hall in attitude?

TENNFALCON

December 28th, 2010
6:50 pm

I still say they are the worst best team I have ever seen. D was great and O wasn’t even average. Let QB call his own plays,,, They can win if you let him run the show….

whodat70816

December 28th, 2010
6:51 pm

Another good one Mr. Jeff Schultz…LMAO

So you and your fan base think the Saints are “dead even” …I really can’t stop laughing.

The Falcon’s defense pressured Drew Brees pretty much the entire game. Yet he still manage to complete 71% of his passes for 300+ yards.

Matty Ice, who was pressured very little by the Saints Defense only managed to complete 51% of his passes for 148 yards and 1 touchdown.

Turner the burner…LOL…held to 48 rushing yards…You next best rusher Matty Ice rushed for 26 yards.

The Saints who we all know don’t have much of a running game gave the ball to PT who out rushed your burner with 63 yards.

Drew Brees throws not one, but two interceptions (back to back) one of which turned into a 7 point gift to the Falcons turned around and drove his offense down the field 90 yards completing 7 of 7 passes for the game winning TD.

The Falcons benefited from 8 penalties called agaist the Saints for 92 yards and still couldn’t score no more than 7 of their own points.

You, Mr. Schultz and your fans can spin it anyway you like, but at their worse the Saints are a far superior team than the Falcons.

Falcons…one and done in the playoffs…take it to the bank!

ATL FAN

December 28th, 2010
6:58 pm

Are you stupid whodat? You’re making it seem like the Falcons were the ones given all the opportunities to win the game. What about the Saints? Fumble on your own goal line, a penalty that took away a huge gain by White that also took away momentum, and a fumble near our own 20 yard line. And you all ONLY managed to win by 3??

D-Man

December 28th, 2010
7:01 pm

Okay, now that I’m through sulking I offer this: I believe the Falcons will be more than okay. Three or four missed sacks notwithstanding, that defense impressed the @#$% out of me. That was “playoff” defense for sure and I’ve NEVER (well maybe back in the ‘04 season with that Patrick Kerney led D) seen them guys amp it up quite as good as they did last night. They play like that and the Iceman and the Burner get it back going and we’re definitely going places, most likely Dallas, Texas. They were due a bad game and now I think they got the refocusing gut punch they needed before there heads and mouth (this means YOU Roddy) got too big for their britches. Now all that is needed is to tune up and take out their frustrations on the Panthers, take a week off, and get ready to blast them Aints when it really matters- in the playoffs. GO FALCONS!!!

SeenThisB4

December 28th, 2010
7:02 pm

The Saints earned 17 points last night, and GAVE the falcan’ts 7 points. The falcan’ts offense earned 7 points last night.

Atlanta’s defense wasn’t ready, Atlanta’s offense wasn’t ready, Atlanta’s special teams weren’t ready.

The Saints gashed that Atlanta defense that Shultz is trumpeting, GASHED!

And the Saints’ Defense absolutely owned the falcan’t defense, OWNED THEM!

GEAUX SAINTS! OUR TIME!!

ejj

December 28th, 2010
7:02 pm

I will say this, it was an ok performance for the defense, not really big plays. Couple of stops early in the game, but unable to to Brees, later on. So no, i don’t believe they are playoff-ready as you say. Still was unable to consistently mount a pass rush to disrupt Brees timing in second half. I think it was offensive play-clalling that caused the loss. Nobody is scarced of our defense, we have to control the clock, its’ a new ball game when we are ahead, and now everyone knows that. Our defense is not that strong.

Petermsp

December 28th, 2010
7:04 pm

Hate to play old man but I have seen some DISASTERS on past Monday nights involving the Falcons. 13-3, 16-3 going back to the last three in ‘09. Saints (and their idiotic, huffing fans) For Falcons four more wins and they’re the Champs. And glad they took the picture on the Falcon logo. Bunch of fifth graders!

Barkin'Dog

December 28th, 2010
7:05 pm

ATL FAN
December 28th, 2010 6:47 pm
Ted, how is Robinson like D Hall in attitude?

ATL FAN – “Sans” means without – I think it’s Latin

Facts is Facts

December 28th, 2010
7:07 pm

Shultz, really?! The D is playoff ready?? Whodat you pretty much nailed it. I have been saying all season that the Falcons are a good team but ain’t ready yet. They are a 10-6 team disguised as a 13 win team. They are an up and coming squad with some talent but also some glaring holes in the D (ahem, D. Robinson, LBers, FS). It’s a process Falcon fans and last night’s L is part of the journey. All teams have to go through it. The blueprint is simple…stop Turner, load up 8 in the box and make #2 beat you. If you don’t believe me ask Pburgh, Philly and now N.O. TB and Cleveland and Baltimore just couldn’t finish the deal. Matty Ice just hasn’t developed into that cold blood assassin yet. And you all wondered why the national media wouldn’t show you much love.

fatz

December 28th, 2010
7:07 pm

Najah D: “And at least 4 games this season were extremely loseable”… you are dead right, and i guess that is the way the league works. that is the difference between 10-6 and 13-3/14-2. even the patriots have several 3 point wins this year.

and that is why nobody builds on anything in the NFL. you win when you can, because the next year you are going to have a tougher schedule and you might not be so lucky with injuries.

but i agree the defense is getting better and that is a good thing entering the playoffs. but i think the offense has to be able to take a step forward when the running game gets shut down. there’s a fine line between staying with your game plan and becoming entrenched in something that isn’t working. you only get so many shots a game. i think smith deserves to be criticized for the end of the game last night. the falcons didn’t have to win the game, so the world wouldn’t have ended if they had played FOR THE WIN instead of playing percentages that were’nt going in their favor last night.
i don’t understand why ryan couldn’t find gonzalez or white more than he did. or get finneran in there. they are overrating michael jenkins and harry douglas. they are as apt to fail as to succeed.

Cornell

December 28th, 2010
7:09 pm

@ whodat70816: All that said in done yall still only won by 3 points with the chance for us to still win the game at the end. We also fumbled the ball at the one, fumbled a snap early in the game and gave ya’ll good field position. Saints out gained us in yards by almost 200 yards and still you only beat us by 3. The worst outting of the year for our offense and still you only win by 3. drew brees threw the ball 49 times for 302 yards. So your offense clearly out played our offense but still you only win by 3. Sounds like the same excuses they gave yall when we beat yall in New Orleans. So dead even I could probably say slightly giving the edge to Atlanta. yall couldnt have played any better but yet and still you only win by 3. So talk all you want. You sound like a typical Saints fan. Dont want to except reality. I understand…..At the end of the day you finish second in the division 5TH in the conference and yall have to try to get to the next round where we will be waiting to play whoever. So holla at us on the next post when we are where yall are trying to get to. HOLLA

Vain Jangling

December 28th, 2010
7:14 pm

Tech’s loss was a heck of a lot more telling than the Falcon’s.

ATL FAN

December 28th, 2010
7:14 pm

Oh wow, I totally skipped that word. Thanks for the clarification

Jeff Schultz

December 28th, 2010
7:18 pm

D A Double U G — Having a bad day?

Jeff Schultz

December 28th, 2010
7:18 pm

Mack1124 — you get 48 hours. Players have a 24-hour rule.

Jeff Schultz

December 28th, 2010
7:19 pm

Najeh Davenpoop — “You win some, you lose some.” Damn, why didn’t I think of that?

Facts is Facts

December 28th, 2010
7:21 pm

Cornell, you keep saying only won by 3 but go back and look at the tape. A Saint TD was called back on a false start and Reggie got tripped up in the open field with only one guy to beat, that was another 6 points. Dude, a loss is a loss. You guys had 11 total yards in the 4th QTR. This mighty D I keep hearing about gave up 101 total yards to a RB who hasn’t played in several weeks. The miscues you saw your boys do last night are committed by inexperienced teams in pressure cooker situations. Tell Roddy to keep his 3 catches on the night mouth shut next time. Ya’ll just hope the Eagles don’t pay a visit cause the Falcon D has nothing for them and we ain’t leaving no points on the field!!

Jeff Schultz

December 28th, 2010
7:21 pm

Whodat0816 — Safe to say there were breaks on both sides. Bottom line, teams split two games and tied 41-41 in points. What more do you want?

Dawg_Mike

December 28th, 2010
7:30 pm

No dog in this fight, as I am a neutral observer- a JAX fan, but the Falcons offensive gameplan was…offensive. It reminded me of UGA / Bobo…stubbornly trying to run into a 10 man front on first and second down, leaving an unmanagebale 3rd down…

The D was bending but not breaking, although they gave up over 300 yards passing.

I see this team making the second round then done.

Dawg_Mike

December 28th, 2010
7:31 pm

Oh, and watching Brees operate reminded me of a certain QB that wears number 18. He is a surgeon!

sidslid

December 28th, 2010
7:33 pm

Sorry folks. Just another Atlanta failure. Biggest regular season game in history and Falcons played like duds. Another Celtics to the Hawks, Cowboys in 80, Leyritz moment in the long annals of almost there.

Who dats are bandwagon

December 28th, 2010
7:33 pm

Saints pull off a close one at our place… and all of a sudden all of the who dat trashtalkers are coming out of the woodwork. Give us a break. We’ll see you guys at our place in three weeks.

Reid Adair

December 28th, 2010
7:35 pm

Very well said, Jeff.

Charles

December 28th, 2010
7:38 pm

I think this team responded very good from the McClure blunder and the Turner goof at the 1 yd line. A lot of teams would have let that get into their heads, but not the Falcons!

Facts is Facts

December 28th, 2010
7:39 pm

who dats are bandwagon…you should be wondering if the Eagles will be here in 3 weeks. If you survive that is.

real falcon fan

December 28th, 2010
7:39 pm

WHEN WE SEE THE SAINTS OR ANY OTHER TEAM IN THE PLAYOFF’S,THE OFFENSE WILL PERFORM!I HAVE CONFIDENCE IN COACH SMITH AND THE STAFF AS WELL AS ALL OF OUR PLAYER’S. DON’T FORGET WE HAVE ALREADY HAD 4 BIG TIME PLAYOFF TYPE GAMES,1ST NO. GAME ,RAVENS,AND GREEN BAY. GO FALCONS

icedawg

December 28th, 2010
7:42 pm

Few if any running misdirectional running plays, screens or slant routes, quick shots. The offensive play selection was less than stellar. There is good talent there. I think for the offense the game was lost along the line of scrimmage. The Falcon’s offensive line could not create holes and the protection broke down too often hurrying up the QB’s throws. Fumble on the 1 yard line could have been the difference maker. Kudos to the Saints defense. The Falcon defense had to play most of the game. I was amazed that they hung in there as long as they did. If the Falcon defense had played offense maybe it would have been a runaway. LOL

JSS

December 28th, 2010
7:43 pm

Hitting the New Years cheer early?

They won’t be carrying them if they don’t keep them off the field and rested!
Said it at Pittsburgh and mocked, they must win the time of possession wars because they are not going to win the explosive plays index against high quality offenses…

@ Ted Striker…
“Ted, how is Robinson like D Hall in attitude?” You gotta start using crayons for these folks….

Asheville Dawg

December 28th, 2010
7:44 pm

I actually feel better about the loss, too. Now we won’t have to hear that crap about how hard it is to beat a team three times in one season. Also, the Falcons know they should have won that game. The revenge factor will be fine back in our dome. I do not see the Saints beating us twice in a row at home.

Edd

December 28th, 2010
7:46 pm

Thanks for the article, I feel better, GO FALCONS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saints#1_Fan

December 28th, 2010
7:47 pm

Great game really enjoyed it. Now I know why its so hard to play in the Georgia Dome N.O Penalties (Number-Yards) 8 – 92, ATL Penalties (Number-Yards) 1 – 10? That is a huge difference. Several of those the announcers question the calls. Good luck guys hopefully we will meet down the line.

Paul (You doesn't have to call me Johnson).

December 28th, 2010
7:48 pm

Clearly, the difference in the game was Drew Brees, an extremely confident and veteran QB with more experience than anyone in the league. In contrast, Matt Ryan is only 25 years old, in his 3rd year and will eventually surpass Brees, In spite of this huge disparity the Saints were able to win this game by only 3 points.

Not taking anything away from N.O. They played a great game. ATL, not so much

GA ALL DA WAY

December 28th, 2010
7:53 pm

Good one Jeff- 41-41 I would say that’s about even. Given that if our defense hits Brees a couple of times that like Smitty said ” they were game changing opprotunites left on the field.” I live in Tampa, Fl by way of the Military, and what I heard leading up to the game on the stations like ESPN 1040 Raido, 620 the beast and 1010 Westwood was that the Falcons were due to lose a game and this one would be it however, consistantly all stations mentioned that if Atlanta was to lose that they probably are going to be in Dallas and Win. That’s respect if I haven’t heard any. I think that the lost puts a tremendous amount of fury along with refocus back into the Falcons because if they handle business this Sunday. They know that the Saints will have to come back to the Ga.Dome!

Jt

December 28th, 2010
7:53 pm

Most impressive outing by the defense this year- aggressive, good game plan (missed lots of opportunities, but…) tackled well after catch most of the time, pressure all night. I am encouraged! Losses can humble you and refocus you. I think that defense answered some of my concerns last night. Bring the rematch on! It will take place in the Georgia Dome. No way Falcons take step back this week- too professional- from GM to Coach to players. They will do to Carolina what needs to be done and then wait a week for an opponent and I feel better about their chances after defensive I saw last night