One year ago the Atlanta Falcons delivered an early Christmas present by winning the NFC South on Christmas Eve. This Christmas Eve they were delivered a lump of coal as the Falcons will officially not repeat as NFC South champs.
The Falcons with help from turnovers, penalties and a number of questionable no-calls from referees lost to the New Orleans Saints 23-13.
Despite the loss the Falcons are still in control of that last playoff spot but are guaranteed not to host a game. Making the playoff sets squarely ion their shoulders, as they will host the Carolina Panthers on New Years Eve. If they win, they’re in and the Saints win the division (currently the Saints and Panthers have the same record going into the last game of the season). If the Falcons lose they will need Arizona to defeat Seattle to make the playoffs
Atlanta’s offense was anemic all day – not that it’s been on fire all season like last, but the Falcons were shut out for the first half of the game – the first time since their week nine loss to the Patriots.
Trailing 6-0 late in the half the Falcons attempted to get in scoring position. In a play that will forever be referred to as the “butt interception” as a pass intended for Marvin Hall bounced off his hands and literally landed on Marshon Lattimore’s behind. The ball literally sat there precariously as two teammates attempted to catch the ball before it hit the ground. Lattimore was able to reach back and trap the ball and gain possession of the ball with 57 seconds to go in the half on the Saints’ 36.
With 14 seconds to go in the half Brees hit Ted Guinn Jr. on a 54 yard toss and run to extend the lead and add to the frustration of the Falcons who despite so many mistakes and penalties in the first half were only six behind until this.
With the Saints receiving the second half kickoff they looked to add to their lead but lady luck was on the Falcons’ side as Brees was intercepted on the first play of scrimmage by Deion Jones who returned the ball to the New Orleans’ two. On second and goal from the one Devonta Freeman was stacked up at the line and fumbled. Manti Te’o recovered to take the wind out of the Falcons sails, which was evident by the team’s play, the rest of the game. The Falcons only managed a field goal in the third as the Saints extended their lead to 20-3 on Mark Ingram’s 26-yard touchdown run late in the quarter.
“You can’t make mistakes. We made too many of them today. We thought we did some good things in terms of moving the ball. We’re consistent enough in terms of keeping it going, so that’s something that we have to correct. We’ve got to be better than that moving forward,” said Ryan about the penalties and turnovers that spelled doom for the Falcons.
The teams exchanged field goals in the fourth before Atlanta scored a late touchdown to make the score a somewhat respectable 23-13.
There were a lot of missed opportunities for the Falcons as well as missed plays, stupid penalties and penalties not called for pass interference on three separate plays that doomed Atlanta. It was as if the offense never got out of the starting blocks as execution and motivation seemed to be missing in New Orleans as the home team was handed an early Christmas present with the division being handed to them – something that happened to the Falcons the year before. “I certainly was surprised that we did not have more points today. To have two of those (drives) where we were down inside the two or three yard line and not come away with points in that one was the factor, for sure,” said Falcons coach Dan Quinn at the lack of points scored by his team.
The game was a defensive struggle for the most part – something that hasn’t been in play between these two teams in decades as Ryan passed for more yards than Brees with neither hitting the 300-yard mark and neither team running for anywhere near to 100 yards. The Saints defense shut down Freeman who two weeks earlier had combined for over 200 yards rushing and receiving. The Saints by comparison had Alvin Kamara back and he made a difference in the passing game as well as a few nice runs.
The loss cost the Falcons the division. They are still the sixth seeded playoff team going into the final week of the season. If they win this Sunday they are in. If they lose they will be depending on Arizona to defeat Seattle for the final playoff spot. If Atlanta loses and Seattle wins then the Falcons are sitting home the next week.
The Falcons end the regular season at home against the Carolina Panthers in a similar scenario as 2014. Atlanta folded like a cheap suit that day costing Mike Smith his job and the division title. Hopefully history won’t repeat itself.
“It’s motivation just to be in the playoffs. We understand that win these last two games and if we won this game would have been the playoffs. So, we understand that we have another opportunity next week, so we are just taking it one game at a time,” said Vic Beasley.
– Dave Weinthal
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