On a night with everything to gain, the Falcons somehow lose

Do you believe in miracles? Uh, not this night. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Do you believe in miracles? For Matty Ice, there were none this night. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

The biggest home game in franchise history: That’s how this was billed, and here we pause to note that 46 seasons make for a considerable chunk of history. (Almost half a century!) And even if the Falcons entered Monday night’s game against New Orleans with a comfy Plan B — they could lose to the Saints and still win the NFC South and clinch a No. 1 seed by beating Carolina on Sunday — nobody wanted to do it the easy way.

But that, alas, is the way it will have to be. The Falcons tripped over their moment. This isn’t to say they can’t have moments still, but they couldn’t handle this one.

If you’re going to be a champ, you have to show you can beat a champ. The Falcons had already taken down the reigning champs once this fall, but that was in Week 3 in the Superdome when not many people thought this team would be 12-2 on Christmas. That was a case of a rising team slipping up on an established power. Monday night was different: It was a match of peers, a prime-time convocation of two of the NFL’s finest.

It wasn’t a game of precision. Center Todd McClure whiffed on a shotgun snap that spawned the Saints’ first touchdown, and Michael Turner fumbled when the Falcons were poised to take a third-quarter lead. But the defense kept the game close enough for one play to turn it, and one play did.

It was the Falcons’ defense that undid them in their improbable playoff run of 2008, a defense that was so outclassed in Glendale, Ariz., that general manager Thomas Dimitroff flew home determined to embark on a massive redo, and sure enough he (re)did. The Falcons dumped five starters off that 11-5 team and, in going 9-7 last season, paid the inevitable price of such sweeping change. This year, however, has seen the changes brought to bear.

These Falcons can play D with the big boys. On Monday night they held a high-test offense to 10 points — seven off the aforementioned short field — over 56  minutes. They induced Drew Brees, Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year, to commit two egregious fourth-quarter turnovers, the first a silly underhand toss the Chauncey Davis fielded and returned for the go-ahead score, the second a bat-and-grab interception by John Abraham.

The Falcons had a chance after the Abraham swoop to close the case, but a possession sputtered after one first down. Whereupon the Saints drove to a touchdown, Brees finding Jimmy Graham on a slant with 3:24 remaining. But this was what the Falcons’ defense, even in its wobbles, had done all season: It had kept games close enough for Matt Ryan to win them at the end.

And here again was his chance. He hadn’t had a great game through 56 minutes, but the beauty of Matty Ice is that those first 56 minutes can be a red herring. On the first snap after the Saints took their late lead, Ryan scrambled for 20 yards, and you thought, “Here it comes” — the final copyright-protected Falcons Finish of calendar 2010, to be placed on the shelf alongside the escapes against the 49ers and the Ravens and the Packers.

But then a strange thing happened. Ryan threw incomplete on third down, and Mike Smith, the coach who dares to dare, chose to punt inside the final three minutes. It almost worked — the Falcons thought they’d recovered a Graham fumble, but replay correctly overruled — and Matt Ryan never got another chance.

“We didn’t get the outcome we wanted,” Smith said, “but we like where we’re at. Fifteen other [NFC] teams would like to be where we are.”

And that’s true. But there was no hiding the disappointment. “You’ve got to look at the body of work,” Smith said, but this was a night that went against what we’d seen before.

A formula tested over 14 games fizzled in the 15th. The defense held the Saints to 17 points and scored seven itself, which should have been enough to win but wasn’t. The offense couldn’t hold up its end, and the dauntless Smitty outsmarted himself at the end. The biggest regular-season game in Falcons annals will go down, sad to say, as a whiff.

By Mark Bradley

405 comments Add your comment

TroupDawg

December 27th, 2010
11:57 pm

What was this?? Did anyone tell the offense that there was an important game that needed to be played tonight?? They played not to lose on offense and lost they did. CMS coached conservative the whole game and then punt with less than 3mins left in the game!? C’mom man!! If they go into playoffs with the mind set and game plan we saw tonight, the run will end early. This was just gross!!

Herschel Talker

December 27th, 2010
11:58 pm

MB:

Super Bowl contenders win this game. The offense was terrible in the biggest game in years. A bad omen, I’m afraid.

HT

Michael Scharff

December 27th, 2010
11:59 pm

UGABugKiller

December 28th, 2010
12:01 am

I AM SICK AND TIRED OF MIKE SMITH’S AND MIKE MULARKEY’S PLAY NOT TO LOSE OFFENSE!!!

Their refusal to stop being so stupidly conservative, their refusal to stop running Turner into 10 man fronts, and their refusal to let Ryan go no huddle all over the Saints’ butts cost the Falcons this game.

This ultra-conservative bulls–t is keeping the Falcons from being the dominating team they can be!

The Falcons have all the pieces on offense to be like the Patriots or the Packers, but when it comes to offensive playcalling, Mike Smith and Mike Mularkey don’t have a single aggressive bone in their body.

Their conservative bulls–t is NOT “real” football. It’s frakking p-ssy football. It’s LOSER’S football.

YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME, DAMMIT!!!

Mike’s Smith and Mularkey play not to lose. And THAT is why they LOST!!!

Mark Bradley

December 28th, 2010
12:01 am

That’s easy to say, Herschel. And I hear you. But I’m not sure that’s true.

Michael Scharff

December 28th, 2010
12:02 am

Aw, man, HT, you got me by a minute…
Tough, tough loss. Not scoring on the second turn over in the 2nd half proved to be a critical mis-cue. You know John Fox is going to throw caution to the wind on Sunday. A short week to prep worries me.

confusadog

December 28th, 2010
12:02 am

Daunte Robinson is the most overpaid player in the league. He’s average at best.

TroupDawg

December 28th, 2010
12:03 am

This was just a gross offesive showing. Looked like the O that played the Eagles earlier in the year. If this is how the Falcons are going to approach the playoffs, the season will end very soon. This was just pitiful and shameful.

Herschel Talker

December 28th, 2010
12:04 am

MB:

Obviously Super Bowl contenders win big games like this. The Patriots don’t lose these games.

The offense clearly was terrible. They scored 10 pts and had two horrible fumbles.

And yes it’s a bad omen.

So which part is not true?

HT

MM

December 28th, 2010
12:04 am

ATL sports franchises CHOKE on the big one again.

UGABugKiller

December 28th, 2010
12:06 am

I AM SICK AND TIRED OF MIKE SMITH AND MULARKEY HANDCUFFING MATT RYAN TO THIS IDIOTIC PLAY NOT TO LOSE OFFENSE!!!

These insanely stupidly conservative coaches COST the Falcons the game.

Falcons Chic

December 28th, 2010
12:06 am

Chauncey — GREAT PLAY. Defense was just on the field too long. What is it t hat the Eagles and Saints have done — kind of like a disruptor on Star Trek.

TroupDawg

December 28th, 2010
12:06 am

Did anyone on the offense really give a damn about this game! Couldn’t prove it by tonights performance!!

FALCONS SORRY

December 28th, 2010
12:07 am

AUTHUR BLANK! TONIGHT YOUR SORRY TEAM SHOWED IT TRUE COLORS! MATTY HOPELESS CRYIN RYAN YOU SHOWED YOU STILL NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME LITTLE BOY! THIS TEAM HAS BEEN LUCKY TO GET AS FAR AS IT HAS! THE EAGELS DESTROYED THIS TEAM EVEN WHEN MV7 THE MAN WAS NOT EVEN PLAYING! IF THIS FALCONS TEAM GET TO THE PLAY OFFS VICK WILL SLAP THE REALTY BACK INTO THIS TEAM AND SHOW THAT COWHERD BLANK WHATS UP! THIS TEAM EMBEARASS IT SELF ON NATION TV TONIGHT AND SHOWED THE WHOLE WORLD THIS CITY IS NOTHING WITHOUT MV7! MATTY HOPELESS DANCED AROUND LIKE A SISSY TONIGHT INSTEAD OF ACTING LIKE A MAN FOR HIS TEAM! BUT WHAT ELSE SHOULD ANY BODY EXPECT A LITTLE GIRL WHO IS ONLY QB BECAUSE HE BLANKS ILL LEGITIMATE KID TO DO! THE DEFENCE PLAYED SCARE AND LET THE SANTS RUN OVER THEM LIKE A TRAIN! THIS TEAM WILL NEVER BE AS GOOD AS IT COULD HAVE BEEN WITH VICK IF BLANK HAD NOT FRAMED FOR KILLING AND RAPPING THEM SORRY DOGS! YOU HATERS JUST TUNE IN TUESDAY NIGHT TO WATCH PHILY TO SEE HOW A REAL MAN AND A REAL QB GET THINGS DONE AND TAKE HIS TEAM TO THE PLAY OFFS! TIME TO GO TO SKOOL HATERS! SHOW THESE HATERS HOW TO WIN AND HOW TO GET IT DONE MIKE!

FALCONS SORRY

December 28th, 2010
12:08 am

Enter your comments here

Dwayne

December 28th, 2010
12:09 am

Makes no difference who the Atlanta Falcons will play in the post season: they’ll lose. The NO Saints just beat the Falcons tonight 17-14. Some observations from tonight’s game:

1. the Falcons scored exactly one offensive TD against the SB champs
2. by losing the Falcons send the Saints this message: “You guys can own us in our building if you want.”
3. the NO Saints should remain, for years to come, the premier team in the NFC South division and legitimate Super Bowl contenders year in and year out
4. the Atlanta Falcons will contend for second or third place in the NFC South with the Tampa bay Buccaneers year in and year out and be a playoff contender and no better
5. after the Falcon’s loss tonight look for the NO Saints to beat the Tb Bucs at home and enter the playoffs having defeated two good teams
6. the Falcons will win their final game in nondescript fashion against the Carolina Panthers, the worst team in the league, entering the playoffs havving beaten a team they were expected to beat anyway

Wondering how the Falcons will do in the playoffs this year? Look no further than tonight’s loss as the template: the defense plays their butts off, Mike Mularkey’s offense doesn’t do anything. Michael Turner runs like he his cleats are encased in cement blocks and the Birds lose at home in a 17-14 or 17-10 type game.

Shane Falco

December 28th, 2010
12:09 am

Am I the only person who finds Michael Jordan’s ‘Hitler’ mustache in his latest Hanes t-shirt commercials ‘tacky’ ?

Breesus

December 28th, 2010
12:09 am

How many Falcons fans said the Saints would get blown out and would get run on for 200 yds… Suck it!!!!! Matty Ice is now 19-2!!!!!!!

Big Country

December 28th, 2010
12:10 am

Birds will make the adjustments and take care of business on Sunday, but we wish they could have taken care of it on national tv. A couple of plays were going to make a difference in this game and it turned out to be our couple of plays. NFC South Champs on Sunday on FOX’s #5 announcing crew!

Singletary

December 28th, 2010
12:10 am

Even more painful, I lost dinner to my cousin-in-law in NOLA. I’m gonna need some beverages from Lafitte’s before paying up on that one! NEVER trust the Falcons to win a a game until five minutes after it is over. True in 1970 and true in 2010.

confusadog

December 28th, 2010
12:10 am

Falcons sorry, pull your face out of Vick’s as and get a breath of air…………..

extremus

December 28th, 2010
12:10 am

Tough loss; fundamentals killed the Falcons tonight (what was going on with Brian Williams trying to arm tackle Brees and co. all night?!?). But hopefully the Falcons will be able to tighten things up between now and the playoffs. I’d wager Mike Smith will be drilling certain things home over the next week.

Hard-fought win by the Saints; they’re going to be tough as nails should we have to play them again. But winning twice in a row in the Georgia Dome (if Falcons beat Carolina next week) won’t be an easy feat for them, either.

GO FALCONS!!!!

GW

December 28th, 2010
12:11 am

Offense way too vanilla for this level of a game. Running to set up the pass is fine but Turner should be an offensive guard. Get some speed and vision at tailback.

Larry

December 28th, 2010
12:11 am

Once again the lack of courage by the coaching staff is costly.

Two really dumb decisions:

1.) 3rd and 12 at their own ten and for the first time we decide not to blitz and Brees completes this pass without any pressure and drives the team down the field for a winning TD

2.) 4th a 6 under three minutes near midfield and Mike Smith decides to not gamble with Matt Ryan and hope we can keep Drew Brees from getting a first down and he just drove the Saints down the 90 yards the previous series.

Stupid!

Breesus

December 28th, 2010
12:11 am

Can anyone say paper champs?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!

Tough Nolla Guy

December 28th, 2010
12:11 am

beat down at the dome.

ccrider

December 28th, 2010
12:11 am

We have to accept the Falcons are a good team, but not a dominate team.
The Patriots showed that they were by blowing the doors off the Bears and Jets.
We can only wait till another season and hope that they have room to improve and they have not already topped out!
Dissapointing , but not surprising. They have been on the winning side of too many close games, tonight they were on the wrong side.
The more talented, better coached offensive teams will beat them as they stand.
Wait until next year, or the next, or the next !

Tough Nolla Guy

December 28th, 2010
12:12 am

‘cons displayed their chumpionship form tonight infront of the whole country. everyone is laughing.

Kurt

December 28th, 2010
12:12 am

If the Falcons were to lose a home game, better now than in the playoffs. This may actually turn out to be a good thing. Just stick to the same preparation they’ve had all season, they’ll be fine. Remember the Saints lost their final 3 regular season games last year.

GTfan

December 28th, 2010
12:13 am

Breesus, the Falcons are going to win the division and have home field advantage. Kiss it fool and look up to the falcons. Don’t forget the Falcons beat these Saints this year too. 12-3!!!!!!!

Tough Nolla Guy

December 28th, 2010
12:13 am

at least you have three straight winning seasons right? that’s what y’all play for. regular season success.

KimZ'spackage

December 28th, 2010
12:14 am

People it was a great game. Hard fought by both teams. We all wanted to win, but I still say it is hard to beat a team 3 times in a year. I like the season split of the games. The Defense was great just needed to get Brees on the ground more. Don’t get all stupid. The Falcons are fine and I think they ALL learned a lot about themselves tonight. Roddy I am sure learned a few things.

Falcons in the Driver's Seat

December 28th, 2010
12:15 am

Everyone, calm down. This was a meaningless game for the Falcons. The Saints were fighting for their playoff lives. Does anyone, except Trent Dilfer think the Falcons will lay down against the Panthers next Sunday>

Tough Nolla Guy

December 28th, 2010
12:15 am

put a chump on prime time and what do you expect? the whole nation was watching and what happened? darn ‘cons wet the bed. OMG. when will this city ever rise up. the moment I heard the mayor was having a pep rally I knew these clowns were going to lose.

darryl

December 28th, 2010
12:15 am

Out coached again! It sad to see the players lose for the sins of the coaches. They laid off the rush on the scoring drive. Played conservative and didn’t go on forth. Chicken out and lost!

Falcons in the Driver's Seat

December 28th, 2010
12:16 am

The Saints had the easiest schedule in the entire NFL and lost 4 games.

Hummon

December 28th, 2010
12:16 am

Not worried about Ryan as much as the running game. Stuffed – I mean REALLY stuffed – two weeks in a row.

Draggin' Fly

December 28th, 2010
12:16 am

At last. A little more breathing room on the bandwagon tonight. Fair weather fans, don’t even bother to try to get back on next week.

Mark Bradley

December 28th, 2010
12:16 am

It wasn’t a meaningless game. The Falcons invested a lot in this one. They just lost.

But they do a second chance to make it right

RA

December 28th, 2010
12:16 am

Very tough loss. Two fumbles basically sank us. It happens. It’s time to have a short memory. Regardless of what the announcers for ESPN think the Saints are entitled to, all the Falcons have to do is go out and beat Carolina and they get the bye, and the championship, and the road to Dallas running through A-town. Props to the Saints, they beat Atlanta, but I’ll tell you all something, if there’s one team the Saints don’t want to look up and see in the playoffs, it’s Atlanta in Atlanta, or anywhere else.

Breesus

December 28th, 2010
12:16 am

GTfan,

suck it!!!!!! they may win the division but a playoff game they will not!!! Matty “Ice” is 0-1 in the playoffs. Have fun gettin jacked on North Ave Assh&*le

Falcons in the Driver's Seat

December 28th, 2010
12:16 am

The entire nation watched Brees hand over 14 points in critical situations.

ln29576

December 28th, 2010
12:17 am

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the Saints are so delightful, way to go, way to go, way to go!!
Who Dat!! roddy needs to be quiet..

rc35

December 28th, 2010
12:17 am

The Falcons should take up origami. They’re great at folding under pressure.

Yes, I’m ticked. With so much on the line, only the defense showed up tonight. The offense and coaching staff might as well have been in New Orleans or New York or New Delhi. They sure didn’t do anything in Atlanta!

KimZ'spackage

December 28th, 2010
12:17 am

5150 .

December 26th, 2010
10:14 pm
Falcons down by 10 early, but take the lead in the 3rd qtr. only to lose by 3 in the 4th.
I hope not I just think it will get the Falcons heads in the game for the playoff run.

It is all good. People relax. I hope the Falcons learned some things about themselves tonight to help in the playoffs. I am sure Roddy learned a few things.
It ate this same post. I hope it works this time.
FALCONS are going to be fine.

nanunanu

December 28th, 2010
12:17 am

Falcons pretenders. No championship ability. Had acchance to put the game away and blew it. AFter brees second interception they go 3 and out. Punt to Brees. Very predictable that he drives down field. Get the ball back and punt at midfield. Can’t get ball back. Pretenders. Will lose first game in playoffs.

jack

December 28th, 2010
12:18 am

to Dwayne <<<<<< You're an idiot !

Iron Head

December 28th, 2010
12:19 am

I hope every falcon takes this lost to heart. This is how it feels when you loose a playoff game after having a great year. Ryan is a good football player but he stunk up the GD tonight. I really believe this will make the offense better heading into the playoffs. learn from the game and move on. Lastly; fair weather fans please stay off the vent. Atlanta is a good team that lost to the world champs give the Saints their due.

Bean

December 28th, 2010
12:19 am

Dear FALCONS SORRY,

Put down the crack pipe and take an English class.

jack

December 28th, 2010
12:19 am

ok Mark,, what’s up,,, posted two comments and neither showed up,,, how come ??