By: Raynard Churchwell
Any hope that the Atlanta Falcons had left to salvage the season was put to rest Thursday night as the Falcons lost to the Saints 26-18. With the loss, the Falcons were officially eliminated from playoff contention, and the Saints were crowned NFC South Champions. With the season seemingly being over now, the Falcons will now use these next four games to play for their pride and potentially see what players will be on the roster next season.
The game started off ugly for the Falcons as the offensive line allowed a sack on the very first play of the game. The Saints would add insult to injury to the drive, as Saints do-it-all specialist Taysom Hill blocked the 4th down punt, which gave the Saints offense great field position. It would only take the Saints four plays to strike first with a 3-yard touchdown run by Taysom Hill. Both teams would earn defensive stops on the next few drives. During the final drive of the first quarter, the Falcons were able to move the ball all the way to the opposition’s 1-yard line. Unfortunately, instead of running one yard, the Falcons made the decision to throw the ball. In predictable Falcons fashion, the dirty birds would fail to score as Matt Ryan threw a horrible pass, causing the Saints to get the ball back.
In the second quarter, the Falcons offense would quickly bounce back from their failed 1-yard conversion. The Falcons would complete a 45-yard drive in less than a minute as Matt Ryan threw a touchdown to rookie tight end Jaeden Graham for his first career touchdown. The score would give the Falcons some momentum. Unfortunately, kicker Younghoe Koo would miss the extra point, which was only the beginning of his kicking woes. However, the touchdown would make the score 7-6. The Saints offense would continue to be productive. Drew Brees and company seemed to move the ball at will. The Falcons defense was able to bend but not break as they held the Saints to a field goal to make the score 10-6. The Falcons offense would also make some plays in the quarter but showed itself to be too inconsistent. After every positive play, it seemed like the Saints defense would get a sack or tackle for loss. The Falcons would string up one productive drive to get in field goal range, but Younghoe Koo’s struggles would continue as he missed another one from 42-yards. This would give the ball back to the Saints, and they would go on to score another touchdown with Taysom Hill continuing his monster game with a 3-yard receiving touchdown, making the score 17-6. With everyone feeling that the game was pulling away, the Falcons would then go on a furious two-minute drill. Kicker Younghoe Koo would redeem himself by nailing a 45-yard field goal as time expired. This would end the half with the Falcons down 17-9.
The third quarter would start out with strong play from both defenses. Both teams would have quick three and outs. The Saints would, however, score the first points of the half with kicker Will Lutz hitting a 47-yard field goal to make the score 20-9. Mistakes would ruin the Falcons in the quarter as Matt Ryan was intercepted by defensive tackle Shy Tuttle. The Falcons offensive line also continued to play horribly as Matt Ryan was under constant pressure and sacked multiple times. The Falcons defense would hold their end as they kept the Saints offense in check in the 3rd quarter.
In the 4th quarter, the mistakes would continue for the Falcons. On the Falcons first drive, Matt Ryan would throw another interception to rookie Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. This would set up another Will Lutz field goal to make the score 23-9. Things would go from bad to ugly on the Falcons next drive as Matt Ryan fumbled the ball, and the Saints recovered it. It was at this point that fans became restless as the back to back turnovers were a perfect summary of how the season is going so far. Will Lutz would again nail another field goal to make the score 26-9. However, the Falcons would not go out without a fight as Matt Ryan would throw a 13-yard touchdown to Russell Gage to make the score 26-15. They would then convert the 2-point conversion. Unfortunately, to the dismay of the crowd, the 2-point conversion was reversed after a booth review. The Falcons would then recover an onside kick, bringing life back into the stadium. Ryan would lead an efficient drive down the field to set up Younghoe Koo for a 43-yard field goal. This would bring the game back to a one-score contest as Koo’s field goal made the score 26-18. The Falcons would recover another onside kick with two minutes left. The Mercedes-Benz Stadium went crazy as the Falcons had one more chance to tie the game. Sadly, Matt Ryan would get sacked on 4th down to end the game.