Not much went right for the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night.
Matt Ryan threw three interceptions, including two of the worst you’ll see from any quarterback this season. Coach Dan Quinn made a strategical error late in the game that should have cost his team a win. Devonta Freeman had what would have been a horrendous fumble in the final minute, but he got lucky when a teammate recovered. The New Orleans Saints had a hard time fielding a lineup at the end, and still the Falcons had a hard time putting them away.
And yet, somehow the Falcons won 20-17. Linebacker Deion Jones had an enormous interception in the end zone in the final two minutes, and then Saints coach Sean Payton was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct for running out on the field to argue with officials over a timeout. That finished up a grind-it-out victory for Atlanta.
That’s been the story of the Falcons’ season. Last season it seemed to come easy, at least until the infamous Super Bowl collapse. The points flowed, the defense improved as the season went on, and the wins came week after week. Nothing is easy this season. With a loss, the Falcons would have been practically done in the NFC playoff race. As is, they are still alive at 8-5, but are going to have to play a lot better to keep winning and get in.
The Saints almost stole the win due to a weird decision by Quinn.
The Saints threw incomplete on third-and-1 in the final two minutes, but there was a late flag on New Orleans for holding. Quinn had a choice: Move the Saints back 10 yards and face a third-and-11, or decline the penalty and New Orleans would have fourth-and-1. Presumably, Quinn figured Payton would take the 42-yard field goal and tie the game. He was wrong. The Saints went for it and Drew Brees converted a quarterback sneak.
It was a big mistake, but the Falcons took Quinn off the hook. Jones picked off Brees with the Saints inching closer to the end zone and in comfortable position to tie the game on a field goal.
The Saints were seriously banged up by the end of the game. Running back Alvin Kamara went out first, with a concussion. Many of his teammates followed him to the sideline. Still, the Saints had a shot to win. Part of that was because the Falcons offense struggled, and Ryan made some inexplicable mistakes.
Ryan threw a terrible pick at the end of the first half with the Falcons in field-goal position to Saints rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore. There seemed to be a problem with the play call, because Julio Jones came off the field yelling at the sideline. (It could be argued that he was upset about not drawing a holding call against Lattimore on the play.)
The Falcons got lucky though as the Saints blew a field-goal opportunity on the last play of the first half. They were flagged for illegal formation. Yeah, it was that kind of game.
Ryan threw an interception to start the second half, though it was tight end Austin Hooper’s fault. Ryan’s third interception was clearly his fault and a mistake you would expect from an undrafted rookie in his first game. On third down near the goal line, Ryan looked at Jones as he moved in the pocket, and even though Jones wasn’t open, Ryan threw it anyway. He got no loft on the pass to even give Jones a chance at a ridiculous jump-ball catch. It was an easy interception. It was a startling play from the reigning NFL MVP.
Yet, it all turned out well in the end. The Falcons won, and it won’t matter to them how it happened. The Falcons are finding that everything is a challenge as they try to follow up their NFC championship, but they’re still fighting.
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