New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson (82) makes a touchdown catch against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half of an NFL football game Thursday night in New Orleans. (AP photo)

Falcons flash some of their ugly past in loss to Saints

It was throwback night, the throwback era being the last couple of years of infamy, pre-Dan Quinn. The Falcons’ horrors took place in a fitting venue: the Superdome, home of their chief rival and pain, apparently even at 1-4.

Make that 2-4. The Falcons fumbled three times on the Saints’ side of the field. They lost the ball twice in the red zone. They had a punt blocked for a touchdown. They saw their center, James Stone, normally a backup for a reason, snap the ball maybe six inches, which is a problem when the quarterback is standing back in a shotgun position. They punched themselves in the face with penalties. Their defense was horrible on third down.

They saved all this for national television.

Should I go on or would you like to stop here for a Tums?

“We did a lot of things tonight that wasn’t us,” wide receiver Roddy White said. “That wasn’t Falcons’ football.”

Well, it was in 2013 and 2014, when the Falcons went 10-22. It hasn’t been in 2015, when the team started 5-0.

It was as if the football gods felt the need for a major market correction. The Falcons trailed 14-0, 24-7 and eventually lost to New Orleans Saints 31-21, thereby reaffirming two things: 1. They will not go undefeated; 2. Despite all of the progress they have made this season, they are still quite capable of looking quite bad.

Quinn summarized some of the wreckage, then asked, “Why would they come up tonight? Credit to New Orleans. We knew it would be a battle But mistakes really cost us tonight.”

They gave the Saints a touchdown. They blew at three potential scoring drives. Conservatively, that’s a 20-point swing right there.

Saints’ fans enjoyed it. They haven’t had much to cheer about the last couple of years, what with their franchise crumbling and rumors that their coach, Sean Payton, likely will be elsewhere next season.

Chants of “Who Dat!” rang through through the Superdome. It was almost like New Orleans was, you know, good, instead of one of the NFL’s worst teams.

The Falcons entered the game as NFC East champions, having swept four teams in that division. They had yet to play a game against the NFC South, which theoretically should be the easy part of their schedule. Bad start.

Strange things happen in Falcons-Saints games. So maybe it should have been expected that a team that started 5-0 played the first half with seemingly exploding limbs. The Falcons had 265 yards in offense in the half but trailed 14-7 for these reasons:

• They had a punt blocked by the Saints’ Michael Mauti for the second New Orleans touchdown and a 14-0 deficit.

• They had a botched handoff on fourth-and-one from the New Orleans 34 when Matt Ryan had the ball knocked out of his hands by fullback Patrick DeMarco.

• They had two fumbles in the red zone, one by Tevin Coleman after a 17-yard gain to the New Orleans 9-yard line and another on an aborted snap by Stone at the Saints’ 14. It would have been a fine regular snap by Stone, who starting for the injured Mike Person, if Ryan was under center.

New Orleans built on its lead in the second half, driving to a field goal and a touchdown to make it 24-7, the largest deficit the Falcons have faced this season. And that pretty much was it, other than some late-game Falcons’ window dressing.

“We were terrible on offense,” said White. “They played lights out. But we just kept sputtering, sputtering, turning over the ball. We’re kicking ourselves.”

This isn’t the same New Orleans team that won a Super Bowl and went to the playoffs five times in an eight-year span (2006-13). The Saints mismanaged the salary cap after its championship in 2009, signed bad contracts, made personnel mistakes and saw many of its players get old. Strapped for cash and needing to rebuild, they were force to trade their second-best player, tight end Jimmy Graham, to Seattle. Now, rumors are circulating that Payton will force his release after the season and wind up in Miami.

It’s possible the Saints could return to Aints’ days, with fans wearing paper bags on their heads.

But there was no need for that Thursday. It was the Falcons who wanted to hide their faces.

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