The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints have faced off in the opening weekend of the NFL season eight times. The most recent meeting, easily, has become one of the most memorable of the bunch. Per usual with recent years, this matchup became a back-and-forth, high scoring contest that gave the feeling of two people engaged in an intense game of Madden.
The Falcons fell behind the 8-ball early after the Saints capitalized on a Julio Jones' fumble and increased their lead to 13-0. The Falcons answered with a touchdown on a 14-play, 80-yard drive that was extended due to a Saints penalty. The Saints increased their lead back to 13 following a touchdown drive that ran the clock down to 20 seconds left in the 2nd quarter; Matt Bryant then kicked a 40-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to make the score 20-10.
Whatever was said to the Falcons during halftime proved effective because the Falcons ameliorated their defensive performance by preventing Drew Brees and company to score on 3 out of their first 4 possessions of the second half; including an interception by Robert McClain in the endzone. That play showed that the Falcons, despite having their backs against the wall, are able to keep up the intensity; something they failed to show during most of last season.
The Falcons found themselves in a true shootout late in the third quarter. The Falcons had taken their first lead of the contest after touchdown catches by Levine Toilolo and Antone Smith respectively. The Saints responded with a 6:35 touchdown drive, giving them a 27-24 lead. A couple drives later, Jacquizz Rogers used the analog stick to juke his way to a 17-yard touchdown run, giving Atlanta the lead back at 31-27.
The second half ended quite similar to the first. The Saints scored a late touchdown to give them a 34-31 lead. Matt Ryan, then, lead the Falcons down the field to set up a Matt Bryant field goal that sent the game into overtime. One would think that New Orleans realized that Matt Ryan only needed 20 seconds at the end of the first half to score; they gave him 80 seconds at the end of the second half.
Once in overtime, the Falcons defense made a statement by forcing a fumble in Saints territory. This led to a third Matt Bryant field goal, giving the Falcons a 37-34 victory.
As the Atlanta defense played decently, the offense played superlatively well. Matt Ryan set a franchise record for passing with 448 yards complemented by 3 touchdowns. The first of those 3 touchdown passes went to Roddy White; this lifted White to 2nd place on the franchise record sheet for touchdown receptions. The other wideouts on Atlanta's depth chart put up impressive numbers as well. Julio Jones lead the receiving corp with 7 catches for 116 yards. New addition, Devin Hester, showed that he's much more than a tremendous returner with 99 yards receiving. And Harry Douglas gained 69 yards with 6 receptions. Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, and Devin Hester each averaged over 11 yards per reception.
The Falcons' running back corp also contributed nicely with 108 combined rushing yards. Matt Ryan added 15 yards with his legs bringing the team total to 123 yards rushing.
If the Falcons offense had the ability to put up such great stats, then the offensive line clearly played well enough silence doubters. Before and after Jake Matthews exited the game (ankle injury), the line gave Matt Ryan plenty of time to throw the ball.
What I truly liked from Atlanta's performance was Mike Smith using his depth chart at the skill positions. The Falcons have four legit running backs that ,ultimately, will tire a defense out; and four great wide receivers that will spread a defense out. I'm glad to see that Mike Smith realized this. This offense will have defensive coordinators losing sleep during the 2014 season. They just need to avoid penalties.
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