The great Matt Ryan has never been greater

Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert McClain (27) makes a catch for an interception as the intended receiver New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) looks on during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Robert McClain makes a point-saving interception. (John Bazemore/AP)

Credit: Mark Bradley

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Credit: Mark Bradley

These short takes are presented as a companion to the Falcons-Saints game column, which can be found on

1. As great as he has been as a Falcon, Matt Ryan has never been greater than he was Sunday. Forget, if only for a moment, the two fourth-quarter scoring drives. (The first to take the lead, the second to force overtime.) Forget the 448 passing yards, which established a franchise record. Forget even his stop-the-presses 15 yards scrambling. Return instead to the final 20 seconds of the first half: The Saints had re-established their 13-point lead and were about to send the Falcons into the break on a downer. Two Ryan completions -- to Devin Hester for 19 yards and Roddy White for 39 -- enabled Matt Bryant to kick a 40-yard field goal to make it 20-10. There might be better quarterbacks in the NFL (though not many); there are none as good at the end of halves.

2. After an early sputter, this offense was a mighty river. The Falcons gained 568 yards and scored on seven of their final nine possessions. They outscored the Saints 27-14 over the final 30 minutes of regulation and 3-0 in overtime. They deployed four running backs to great effect. Antone Smith turned a short pass into a 54-yard touchdown, and Jacquizz Rodgers scored from 17 yards out to put the Falcons ahead with 2:50 left in the fourth quarter. Ryan was sacked only once. In sum, the offensive line -- even without first-round pick Jake Matthews, who left with an ankle injury at the end of the first half -- held up its end. Said guard Jon Asamoah: "We know if we can keep Matt upright, this offense will be hard to defend."

3. Still devoid of a pass rush, the Falcons did show that their secondary can cover people. Cornerback Robert Alford saved a touchdown with an end-zone deflection. Nickel back Robert McClain saved three points if not seven with an end-zone interception. Safety William Moore forced the Marques Colston fumble in overtime -- recovered by linebacker Joplo Bartu -- that essentially won the game. Cornerback Desmond Trufant had some moments. And this was with Drew Brees throwing 42 passes and going unsacked. If the Falcons could ever mount real pressure on a quarterback, this defensive backfield could be something.