The long march continued, same as the Patriots’ had that February day in Houston. (New England won the OT toss, too.) Kamara appeared to have scored the winning touchdown, but replay determined that his knee had touched. The ball was spotted at the half-yard line. Brees took the snap and leaped, extending the ball over the line. This touchdown stood. Saints 43, Falcons 37.
“This one stinks for sure,” Quinn said, but it’s hard to find fault with the offense, which mustered five touchdowns and two 2-point conversions. Ryan threw for 374 yards and a career-best five touchdowns. The Falcons scored touchdowns in all four quarters and two in the fourth. Pretty tough to lose when you do that. Somehow they did.
The Saints blocked Matt Bosher’s punt in the third quarter at a time when the Falcons were beginning to seem the better side. That yielded the touchdown that put the visitors back in front, though only by two points. Twice the Falcons retook the lead. Twice the Saints answered, the second time when Robert Alford and Brian Poole endeavored not to tackle the scrambling Brees, who’s 39 and who wound up diving into the end zone. Still, the Falcons had three timeouts and 1:15 remaining to break the tie, and you’d have bet a year’s salary they would.
Had you done so, you’d be rather poorer. The Falcons’ final possession was a shadow of what we’d seen. The first two plays yielded short completions. The next two saw Ryan scramble. On third-and-4, he was hit as he delivered and threw short for Mohamed Sanu. What happened to the pass protection?
Quinn: “That’s a good question that I don’t know the answer to right now. … They definitely had some pressure at the end.”
Ryan: “The only blitz they had was on the third down.”
Ryan again: “The (last possession) was disappointing. We’ve got an opportunity to win the game. We just didn’t execute across the board.”
The Falcons’ offense managed 407 yards. That’s excellent. Their defense yielded 534. That’s terrible. It’s also understandable. The Falcons are missing Keanu Neal and Deion Jones. Takkarist McKinley and Derrick Shelby were inactive Sunday. Ricardo Allen limped off in OT with a calf injury. The Falcons have managed to stay mostly healthy under Quinn – until now, when they’re paying the overdue bill for three years of good fortune.
Once the Saints won the overtime toss, you figured this would go the way – sorry to keep flogging this dead horse – of Super Bowl LI, when the Falcons’ defenders were too weary to muster resistance. New Orleans would run 77 plays to the Falcons’ 60. It faced two third downs on the slow roll to victory and had no lost-yardage plays. The Falcons’ only hope was for replay to take pity on them, and it both didn’t and did. At the end the inevitable happened, and a team some believed to be of Super Bowl caliber is 1-2.
The good news is that the Falcons coulda/shoulda be 3-0. The bad is that they’re not even 2-1, and now they’re lugging a division loss to a rival they’ll see again on Thanksgiving night down there. The loss in Philadelphia was anything but a shootout; with so many defenders missing, the Falcons might have only seen the start of 43-37 finals.
“I certainly hope not,” Quinn said, contemplating the possibility of a series of such wild-and-crazy games. “Some of those guys (meaning injured defenders) will be back.”
They’d better be. The Falcons’ problem isn’t that they’ve built a flimsy roster; on the contrary, they’re about as deep as any team in the hard-capped NFL. There’s just no game-planning for a run of injuries like this, and there’s no beating Drew Brees if you can’t tackle and can’t defend. The Falcons have ample time to right themselves; at issue is whether they have ample able bodies.