(UPDATED: 12:30 a.m.)
They keep it interesting, don’t they?
The Falcons came out against the New Orleans Saints Thursday night as if determined to bury their recent nemesis’ playoff hopes six feet under (which at least has the advantage of being out of egg-chucking range).
They led 7-0 less than four minutes into the game and 14-0 just 52 seconds into the second quarter. Most impressive of all was their offense, which is the side of the ball that ultimately will determine how far this team goes in the playoffs.
They discovered a new wrinkle: The running play. Michael Turner had a 35-yard run on the game’s second play, and before the first quarter ended he had already rushed for more yards (67) than he had in all but three of the previous 11 games.
Then the Falcons’ offense did something uncommon for any New Orleans Saints’ opponent: They hit a wall.
A team blessed with offensive weapons all over the field couldn’t gain a first down, couldn’t catch a pass, couldn’t accomplish diddly.
Did it matter? No. That’s what much of this Falcons’ season has been like: “OK, maybe they did (fill in the blank) wrong, but it didn’t matter…”
They are 11-1. New Orleans is 5-7 and probably just had its postseason hopes extinguished. The Falcons will celebrate that.
“Our big thing is to just win the game,” defensive end John Abraham said. “We can’t worry about the small, things. We can’t let anything from the outside get to us. We hear, ‘They can’t do this. They can’t do that.’ We don’t care. We just keep winning games.”
The win, they will celebrate. The Saints’ fall to 5-7, they will celebrate. (Roddy White: “I told Will Smith after the game, ‘See you next year.’”) The usually high-pyrotechnic offense, they won’t celebrate.
In the first five possessions that followed Tony Gonzalez’s 17-yard touchdown reception, which made it 14-0, the Falcons went three-and-out four times and had a gift 45-yard field goal (a two-yard drive that followed Drew Brees’ second of a career-high five interceptions). To recap: That’s five possessions, zero first downs, three points and net yardage of 9, 2, 9, 3 and 0 (total 23).
The Falcons finished with only 283 yards in offense. “They started doing a lot of things on defense, bringing down their safeties,” Julio Jones said. “We had some problems but we’ll fix them.”
They make it interesting. They make it maddening. They are your Falcons.
“We wanted to get after them early and we did that,” White said. “We kinda made it look easy. Then after that we got kind of complacent.
“I felt like that was worse than the six-turnover game (against Arizona, also a win).There are a lot of things we have to fix. This is our mini-bye week, so we have to get in there and see what we’re doing wrong and get back to the big things that we can do.”
The old boxing trainer, George Benton, used to say: “Win tonight. Look good in the next fight.”
This Falcons seem to have adopted that philosophy.
This is when nobody complains. Credit the defense for the five interceptions and holding Brees without a touchdown pass for the first time since October of 2009 (a streak of 54 games). Credit the offense for at least not turning the ball over Credit kicker Matt Bryant for nailing a 55-yard field goal with 4:25 left to provide a 10-point lead, 23-13.
Credit the Falcons for beating a team that they entered the night 2-11 against in recent years — an ugly run of infamy. (White, as if on cue: “We’re not going to celebrate when we beat those guys. We expect to win.”)
This has become one of the NFL’s nastiest rivalries. Animosity has spilled over to the fan bases. Who would expect that the Saints, after arriving at Atlanta-Hartsfield Airport Wednesday night, would be met by EMDs (Eggs of Mass of Destruction)?
Their charter bus was hit with up to four flying eggs by an unidentified airport worker, who probably could run for mayor right now.
“Christmas gifts are on me,” White said, laughing.
Now, I don’t endorse any sports fan throwing any objects at any person or vehicle. But at least Atlanta sports fans can no longer be accused of being devoid of passion. And maybe, finally, it was a sign that the Falcons have lit a fire under this town. At 11-1, one would hope so.
By Jeff Schultz
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