There was nothing really special about the Atlanta Falcons and their offense in a huge win that takes them to 11-1 this season, very close to clinching the NFC South. Matt Ryan was pedestrian, Michael Turner wasn’t anything special. But their defense picked Drew Brees apart, forcing five interceptions out of him, on their way to a 23-13 victory.
The Flacons punted six times, had only 283 total yards and had the ball 7 less minutes than the New Orleans Saints. It didn’t matter. Drew Brees threw five interceptions, the most of his career, after throwing a couple that were returned for touchdowns four days earlier against the 49ers. Worst, his streak of 54 games with at least one passing touchdown evaporated and ended. It spoke volumes as to how good this Falcons defense can be and how something else always pops up for them to win the game.
Because there wasn’t anything special about their offense. Matt Ryan wasn’t abysmal, but impressive he wasn’t, finishing with 165 yards on 18-33, hitting one pass for a touchdown to Tony Gonzalez as the Falcons were on their way to a 17-0 lead. Maybe the eggs thrown at the Saints’ bus had more effect than anyone thought they would. Or maybe it was just their defense playing terrible, as usual.
The Falcons were only 1-11 on third downs; Roddy White had his first reception-less first half since Week 15 of 2007. It’s the first time in his last 78 games that he went without a 1st-half catch, finishing with only once catch for 20 yards. The running game seemed to be the only thing that was working, as Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers combined to average 13.6 yards per rush between the tackles in the first quarter, finishing with a total of 126 yards between them.
The rest of the work was the defense. The Falcons haven’t been great this season in applying four man pressure, but it certainly worked against the Saints, as Brees was simply forcing too much, maybe feeling the pressure of something similar to an elimination game, knowing it was a must win.
He attempted six passes that traveled more than 30 yards downfield Thursday, the most he has thrown in a game in the last five seasons. Brees was intercepted twice on those throws, both of which were underthrown; Brees had not underthrown a receiver on throws of more than 30 yards since Week 15 of last season.
When the Falcons sent four or fewer passes against Brees, they kept him at 56.8% completion rate, 6.3 yards per attempt and more importantly, four interceptions. They only recorded one sack against him, but they got to him five more times, especially John Abraham with 3 quarterback hits and a sack, getting a 37.6 passer rating from the future hall of famer who was throwing bad passes, trying to make something out of nothing all night.
The Falcons aren’t as impressive as the Texans, 49ers or even the Giants, Packers and Bears. But they keep finding ways to win; Be it Matt Ryan playing better than ever before with a fantastic set of receivers; Michael Turner waking up from this career decline from time to time and especially a defense that makes life a living hell for quarterbacks. I don’t know how it’ll turn out eventually, but this all-around ability to win games is a recipe to finally make something happen in the postseason.