Falcons get their reality check, and it’s not what they expected

Falcons could do nothing to stop Drew Brees and the Saints. (AP photo)

Falcons could do nothing to stop Drew Brees and the Saints. (AP photo)

(UPDATED: 1:03 a.m.)

NEW ORLEANS — So much for the mystery.

There’s no need to wonder how heavily to weigh six consecutive dominating quarters against Carolina and Jacksonville. As it turns out, it means only that the Falcons are better than Carolina and Jacksonville — neither of whom they’ll be facing in the playoffs.

They’re not as good as New Orleans. They’re certainly not as good as Green Bay. It remains to be seen if they’re as good as anybody in the playoff field (although they did beat Detroit. But the Falcons won’t be playing them, either.)

Pecking order was firmly established Monday night. The Falcons got boat-raced by New Orleans 45-16 at the Superdome. At least, that was the score the last time anybody looked up.

“I think it’s an aberration,” coach Mike Smith said when asked what this says about the state of his team.

He had better hope so. The Falcons just suffered their worst loss ever under Smith. The 29-point deficit was even bigger than last season’s playoff loss to Green Bay (48-21).

Some might have been upset that the Saints poured it on at the end. (Drew Brees threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game with 2:51 left, prompting Saints coach Sean Payton to later alibi that he was just trying to get Brees the single-season passing yardage record on that drive.)

But when a team gets body-slammed like this, it has nothing to whine about.

The Falcons didn’t merely get beat by a seemingly faster and more talented team. They got punched in the mouth. They lost both lines of scrimmage. They had receivers laid out in the New Orleans secondary, and their own defense didn’t reciprocate. They got outcoached. They didn’t have an answer for a New Orleans offense that went over 300 yards by halftime or for quarterback Drew Brees, who just made them look silly most of the night.

They gave up a 92-yard kickoff return and allowed a touchdown on a 30-yard fumble return after Julio Jones found himself with an excess of thumbs. So they spread the agony around.

This all happened with quite a bit on the line, not the least of which was a slim chance to rally and win the NFC South.

“It’s pretty embarrassing the way we played,” linebacker Curtis Lofton said.

“I don’t even know what this means — I don’t have a clue,” wide receiver Roddy White said.

This doesn’t mean the Falcons are incapable of winning a first-round playoff game over Dallas, New York or San Francisco. But they have beaten only two teams all season that currently have winning records (Detroit and Tennessee), and this performance by players and coaches leaves nobody with any sense of comfort.

There’s also this: If things fall just right (or wrong), the Falcons will be coming back to New Orleans in two weeks for the playoffs. Sleep well, Brian VanGorder.

After consecutive wins over Carolina and Jacksonville, the Falcons had started to believe they could go on an improbable playoff run from a wild-card position this season, just like the Green Bay Packers did last season. But this game provided no reassurance of that.

Smith again: “I felt like we had a good week of preparation. I didn’t see this coming. We didn’t play Atlanta Falcons football and the scoreboard indicates that.”

What the scoreboard indicated was that this defense still can’t handle offenses with an elite quarterback. The only thing the first half gave the Falcons were bad flashbacks of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense, ripping them apart in January.

The Saints led 21-10 at halftime. They would’ve had four touchdowns in four possessions, but one would-be score went off Jimmy Graham’s hands in the end zone, was volleyballed by William Moore and fell like manna from heaven into the hands of Falcons defensive back Dominique Franks for an interception. So much for the Falcons’ first-half defensive highlights.

When Brees stepped back to pass, the Falcons’ secondary looked like somebody had kicked an ant hill. The Falcons rarely pressured Brees, rarely blitzed and, when they did, they got burned. Brees threw for 230 yards on only four possessions and New Orleans totaled 306 yards in offense.

There is your reality check about the Falcons’ defense in game No. 15.

Moving the ball wasn’t an issue early. The Falcons’ drove to a field goal and a touchdown on their first two possessions. But when they stalled, New Orleans kept going. As much as the Falcons fashion themselves as an explosive offense, they’re not nearly at the level of New Orleans or Green Bay.

The defense’s only hope against opponents at this level is to punch them in the mouth. But the Falcons were throwing hooks at air Monday night. In the first half, Brees moved the Saints 84 yards in 3 minutes and 28 seconds, 81 yards in 3:59 and 80 yards in 1:55.

You could almost hear defenders yell in unison, “Which way did he go?”

When New Orleans took a 28-10 lead in the third quarter on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Robert Meachem, chants of “MVP, MVP,” went up in the Superdome crowd.

Nobody in white jerseys would cast a dissenting vote.

The Falcons were looking for a sign that they could do something special in the postseason. Instead, they got smacked with a reality check. Barring an unexpected mutation, they’re nowhere nearly good enough for that.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

751 comments Add your comment

WHODAT

December 26th, 2011
11:54 pm

1 & DONE FOR THE FOULCONS

WHODAT

December 26th, 2011
11:55 pm

Can’t spell Falcons with CONS.

marco

December 26th, 2011
11:55 pm

What a disgrace. Can’t wait for the playoffs so we can be disgraced again. So good to know we didn’t need a defense, only a wide receiver away from the Super Bowl.

the Boss

December 26th, 2011
11:55 pm

wha wha what happened was we got punked!

Another Atlanta Team

December 26th, 2011
11:56 pm

going nowhere. What’s shocking about that?

NFL Referee's

December 26th, 2011
11:57 pm

Them Saints paid us some good money to help them win tonight down in the Bayou.

Tim

December 26th, 2011
11:58 pm

This team is horrid. Please send my season ticket invoice for next year right away. I’m out of toilet paper.

Tim

December 26th, 2011
11:58 pm

This team is horrid. Please send my season ticket invoice for next year right away. I’m out of toilet paper.

Fan from SAV

December 26th, 2011
11:59 pm

WELL IT’S A NEW DAY AND ANOTHER GAME NEXT WEEK

Whodatwasthere?

December 26th, 2011
11:59 pm

But just curious why in a cess pool city like NO with a 60% + blk to white ratio, why is it the white folks pretty much dominate the attendance ?

Angus

December 27th, 2011
12:00 am

Bags on our heads next Sunday.

Drew

December 27th, 2011
12:00 am

Way to show up Falcons. Nice to know that with all this new success you can still stink up a place just like the old days. I hate the Saints but they are my pick for Super Bowl Champs.

mark

December 27th, 2011
12:03 am

Well, maybe next year

Angus

December 27th, 2011
12:03 am

You could have done so many things on the last drive to stop the record.

Jump offsides.

Punch somebody in the face.

Beat the hell out of an official.

But, no. We just took it. Bunch of losers.

gt 94

December 27th, 2011
12:03 am

Falcons are a joke. Noodle arm is not a qb who wil lead this team anywhere. Vangorder is a clown and should be fired asap! He can take the entire falcons secondary with him. Ray edwards and dunta robinson both are overrated. This defense is so bad, I don’t know what else to say. We ave up our draft for a wr who can’t catch and we have a qb who can’t complete deep passes because he has a noodl arm. Strike up the band, the birds will have an early exit from playoffs because the just are not good. The bears suck andwe managed to get blow out by them. Enough said.

Whodatwasthere?

December 27th, 2011
12:04 am

Drew Sneeze…rubbing down the media and kissing ass on the espn. But solid team. Pack vs Saints in NFC no doubt.

J.J.M.

December 27th, 2011
12:05 am

lol ajc writers…

Kyle

December 27th, 2011
12:06 am

A team that plays like this that can’t put up anymore than 16 points doesn’t deserve to be in the playoffs but it won’t be for long anyway; but long enough to embarrass the city once more unfortunately.

TRUTH HURTS

December 27th, 2011
12:07 am

This regime is good I will admit, they put the Falcons in a place they’ve never been with some model of consistency (4 back to back winning season, 2 playoff seasons in a row). However, at the end of the day when it comes down to it, this team has consistently failed to show up in big games. They’ve been outcoached, outschemed, outsmarted, and no adjustments are made. This team is much like the Atlanta Hawks, get in the playoffs but once in crunch time, you will be disappointed. The coaching staff needs to be changed, at least on the defensive end.

Larry

December 27th, 2011
12:07 am

Barring none, we have the single worst Defensive Coordinator in the NFL. In four season now we are the absolutely worst defending 3rd and longs and this is squarely on BVG.

If Mike Smith is either oblivious or unwilling to make the obvious change here then Mike Smith must go to get rid of BVG. The goal of a Head Coach is to always win a championship; to win a championship a Head Coach is responsible for hiring and directing the best coaches to do so.

Additionally, w/o Matt Ryan, this is and has been a 6 or 7 win team based on total team talent. I hope his career isn’t waisted by having to play with such buffoons as coaches.

WhatD?

December 27th, 2011
12:08 am

The Falcons rolled over and played like a sissy. I’ve never seen a team congratulate a qb for breaking the NFL record on them.

Larry

December 27th, 2011
12:10 am

gt 94,

You’re an idiot to at all place this one on Matt Ryan. It is dolts like you that should have to pass an IQ test before posting privileges.

Kyle

December 27th, 2011
12:10 am

Tim

December 26th, 2011
11:58 pm

This team is horrid. Please send my season ticket invoice for next year right away. I’m out of toilet paper.

Tim, I gave up my season tickets a few years ago and you feel a lot better when you see them play like this (and they are always going to) when you know you have that money in your pocket and it isn’t going to support crap like this year in and year out.

Mitch (the one in Rome)

December 27th, 2011
12:12 am

gt 94, Ryan did his part. He was a beast. Problem? The defense plays a soft zone and never changes or adapts. They do the same old crap every down every quarter. BVG is simply not a D-coordinator at the NFL level.
Why no man coverage? Our corners are not bad. They are playing zones. That is all you can do in a zone coverage. We can’t get pressure with our front four and that is the problem.

If our defense does a half decent job, the O could have put up more points and kept up.

This game falls on the poor defensive coaching. BVG has to go.

htwo0rider

December 27th, 2011
12:12 am

stendek, you were right. I too have watched this franchise since the beginning, and they always disappoint. Painful.

lovemysaints

December 27th, 2011
12:12 am

Congrats to Drew Brees. He broke a record on the Pigeons LOL!!!

jipwiz

December 27th, 2011
12:15 am

“Bend Don’t Break”
Green Bay and NO just broke it and stuffed it up our ARSES

sports

December 27th, 2011
12:15 am

this pathetic falcon bunch just flat out sucks…they couldn’t beat an average college team

Egbert

December 27th, 2011
12:15 am

Was Ray Edwards hurt or merely benched in favor of Biermann? (Wish we had kept that $ and paid it to Harvey Dahl or a DT.)

painter

December 27th, 2011
12:16 am

Can’t beat decent teams. Matt Ryan is in over his head. The coaches, too. It’s another one and done, and then hopefully we fire the coaches. Saints fans, congratulations on your win. I hope we meet again so you can run the score up even higher. Cause then these coaching clowns of ours might finally get fired.

PMc

December 27th, 2011
12:16 am

This is a lost season. Nothing gained. It just happened. Just above average nothing special. Never worth the emotion

Larry

December 27th, 2011
12:17 am

Jeff,

I know you have the courage to ask Coach Smith or Thomas Dimitroff what everyone is wondering, but I also know you don’t want to be blacklisted from access to Suwanee. So, perhaps you ask this question in a more safe and diplomatic manner:

“Coach Smith, with continued problems on 3rd and longs, along with such struggles with the better QB’s and offenses in the league, do you anticipate any defensive coaching or philosophy changes in the off-season?”

Not a Falcon fan

December 27th, 2011
12:17 am

The whole Nation saw the real falCANT team tonight. I will say it again. Different year, SAME OLD FALCONS !!!!!!! LOSERS. Time to change “rise up” to “One and Done” I loved watching the game. I should haved taped it to watch over and over. falCANT fans you can run and hide now !!!!!!!

PMc

December 27th, 2011
12:18 am

At this point I’m not sure Mike Smith is any better than this

BosnianBaller

December 27th, 2011
12:18 am

Frank Wren looks like a genius compared to Dimitroff.

ATLER (Ramblin Wreck)

December 27th, 2011
12:18 am

What is it the QB or the Offensive Coordinator? We need both to be replaced.

falcon

December 27th, 2011
12:19 am

I had already decided that I would not renew my tickets for next year. Tonight’s game reaffirmed that the correct decision was made. Hopefully Arthur Blank will demand a new offensive coordinator from Mike Smith. That’s not all they need, but it’s a start.

sam

December 27th, 2011
12:20 am

BVG and MM must go. Oh, take Dunta and Decoud with you. I’ll never attend another Falcons game as long as MM and BVG are the coordinators. They need to be coaching pee wee league teams, not NFL

Leonard Pinth-Garnell

December 27th, 2011
12:21 am

Good write up Jeff ,,, I hope Arthur reads it out loud tomorrow to the Falcons front office when he shuts the door and let’s it fly. But, then I wonder if that is his style,, does he really get in anyone’s face over what is completely unacceptable. Or is it one big lovefest of pushing MV7’s wheelchair and the like? Dimitroff should start looking for his next gig, because he ultimately becomes the worthy scapegoat. Does he or others see that our OC and DC can be outmatched and outwitted in any game – even ones against the 7 losing teams we beat. I ask the question,,,, did we really think we were a Julio Jones away from winning it all? and who would have convinced Blank that this was the reality — especially after all of the proof of how bad this team rally is at the core following getting waxed by the Packers in the playoffs. Answer: Dimitiroff.

egghead

December 27th, 2011
12:21 am

Falcon fans…Falcon fans….Falcon fans….We own your team OWN THEM!…lmao at how bad the Falcons are.

Mr. Panic Button

December 27th, 2011
12:21 am

Here’s the run down…
-Arthur promotes his fired GM (McKay) and makes him President & CEO
-Dimitroff and his joke of a scout staff bring in H.S. players disguised as college drafts and sign FAs that have no talent just to appease the fans
-Mike Smith didn’t have a top 10 defense in Jacksonsville and got the HC job because McKay knew him and thought he was a good guy
-Dimitroff is a figure head…no real say so and had zero experience as a GM
-Mike Smith hires an OC that’s washed up with an archaic offensive philosophy, a DC that isn’t a college level proficient DC
-Everytime the team has time off they get embarrassed for being unprepared
-Arthur needs to sell the team to someone who doesn’t get close with the people he hires and forgets football is a business–where’s the accountability???? Not one person on this team and staff is held accountable for the poor performance of this team

Whodatwasthere?

December 27th, 2011
12:22 am

“Angus”, now that was funny…you posted what I was thinking at the end. Kudos to you for posting it!

PMc

December 27th, 2011
12:22 am

This is clear though every single offensive linemen and about 2/3ds of the de’s need to be replaced this offseason.

Both lines are deplorable

P. Bull Terrier

December 27th, 2011
12:23 am

Angus is right. You would think the Falcons would have enough pride to want to do anything they could to keep Brees from breaking the record against them, even if that meant jumping offsides or taking a pass interference penalty. Instead, it looked like the whole defense just quit on the record breaking play and let him have it.

It looked like the referee was celebrating right along with the Saints when Brees got the record. What was he doing, asking for an autograph? I guess there was a reason why so many calls seemed to go against the Falcons.

doggoneit

December 27th, 2011
12:23 am

The Coach for the falcons has another winning season. I’m impressed! WE ARE STILL IN THE PLAYOFFS!!! I think BVG will blitz like hell in the playoff. I think he did not want to show his hand!

slydog

December 27th, 2011
12:23 am

The Atlanta Falcons have gone about as far as they will ever go with this current coaching staff. Dimitroff needs to upgrade this team on both sides of the line of scrimmage, get better DB’s and a new RB. Huh? After 4 winning seasons in a row and Micheal Turner going over 1200 yards 3 out of 4 seasons? Yep!!! Julio Jones, while he will be a beast in years to come, is not the WR that AJ Green is. I hope people can finally see the difference. Matt Ryan does not suck; He just doesn’t have a big time arm and a big time/game attitude to match. He needs to show some leadership and fire his teammates up. You can’t completely start over. I applaud Dimitroff, Blank, and Smith for taking the best of what they have and going for “it” now. But it’s not working.

steve

December 27th, 2011
12:23 am

As longtime fan, I appreciate the new competitiveness, i.e., playoffs 3 out of 4; 4 straight winning seasons. I still remember the consistent ineptitude all too well

the organization now has to decide if it wants to be elite and if so, take the required steps (examine pats, steelers, saints, pack and do whatever is necessary to emulate that success); the talent is there, the current coordinating is clearly not equal to that task

GO FALCONS

tjhook

December 27th, 2011
12:23 am

Everyone is made at BVG, but I noticed the defense got two interceptions and also stopped the NO offense after Sproles’ kickoff return. The question should be why SMITH and Mularkey have abandoned using Turner on perimeter runs. The slant route was obviously there but outside runs force linebackers and safeties to fan out in coverage. More running also would have allowed the defense to get more rest and forced the Saints’ defense to work a little harder to get stops.
I’m OK with BVG; I am more concerned with an offensive brain trust that won’t commit to its priorities (You paid Turner the huge contract but you won’t make him a focus when you are in top-level contests. We were down 15 in the third and fourth quarter but we had been gaining momentum before the Julio Jones’ fumble.

slydog

December 27th, 2011
12:24 am

At a bare minimum, the Falcons should be better defensively and they’re not. Mike Smith is a defensive guy too.

Whodatwasthere?

December 27th, 2011
12:24 am

“Mr Panic button”. you sir are a MORON!
Is chicken little your daddy?