Falcons defense sags late but hangs on vs. Brees

For three quarters on Sunday the Falcons controlled the best offense they’d faced in two months. But they flailed at the finish as Saints quarterback Drew Brees came alive in the fourth quarter.

What happened?

“It’s Drew Brees,” Falcons safety Ricardo Allen said “At the end of the day, the only stat we care about is wins and losses. It’s Drew Brees. He’s a great quarterback. Yeah, we could have finished better. We should have finished better. But at the end of the day we got that win. We fought long enough.”

The Saints came to the Georgia Dome ranked No. 1 in yards per game (422.9) and second in points (29.1). They gained just 218 yards through three quarters while falling behind 38-13 before adding 255 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth.

The Falcons had held firm against seven consecutive opponents since the Packers scored 33 points against them on Oct. 30. But only one of those foes, the Chiefs, are better-than average offensively and four of them are well below.

The Saints presented the toughest test the Falcons’ defense had faced in a while. They passed in the end but still showed some cracks.

“We had a couple mistakes here and there,” Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley said. “We’ll go to the film room and fix those things.”

The Falcons’ defense benefited from the offense scoring touchdowns on its first five possessions, forcing the Saints to play catch-up, and then holding the ball for 11:37 of the third quarter.

After opening with a three-and-out New Orleans scored on consecutive possessions to get within 14-10 late in the first quarter. The Falcons held the Saints to a field goal over their next three possessions and swelled the lead to 35-13 at halftime.

The Saints ran just seven plays in the third quarter and gained 23 yards before erupting for five plays of 20 yards or longer in the final period. The Falcons made a key stop when cornerback Jalen Collins intercepted Brees’ pass in the end zone with 6:52 to play.