The NFL loves putting the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints together to open the season with and the fierce NFC South rivals rarely disappoint, as the Falcons dug themselves out of a 13-point hole to come away with a 37-34 win that didn’t feature a whole lot of defense on both sides, giving Matt Ryan and Drew Brees the opportunity to put up big numbers.
Ryan threw for a career high 448 yards, completing 31-of-43 passes and connecting for a touchdown three times, finding Roddy White, Antone Smith and Levine Toilolo in the end zone. Maybe his most important work had nothing to do with touchdowns, but with leading his team down the field for the game-tying field goal (51-yards by Matt Bryant) and doing very well in the 2-minute drill, something that didn’t work so well for him last season in a similar situation against the Saints.
The game ended in overtime with another Bryant field goal, this time from 52 yards. The Saints actually won the toss but on the second play of the drive, after Brees completed a pass to Marques Colston the trusted receiver fumbled the ball, leading to a couple of Steven Jackson rushes and the winning field goal from Bryant.
Mike Smith entered this season with a lot of fire under him to do well. Even during more successful seasons than the terrible 2013 campaign, Smith has never been a guy who sends waves of confidence all around. A loss at home to the Saints might have been another beginning of a downward spiral, but the Falcons, without injuries, have a very good offensive team, and showed a lot of character by rebounding from the early hits they took from the Saints.
Julio Jones didn’t have a touchdown but had a big day with 7 receptions for 116 yards. Deven Hester might he been the biggest surprise, no longer a feared returned man but simply an excellent wide receiver out of the slot, getting five receptions for 99 yards in one of the best games of his career when playing as part of the offense and not special teams. Brees connected well with Colston and Graham, but his only touchdown pass went to rookie Brandin Cooks. Brees was also intercepted once.
The fourth quarter was quite the sea-saw event. The Falcons led 24-20 going into it, but Mark Ingram gave the Saints the lead again with a short-yardage touchdown. The Falcons answered with a touchdown run from Jacquizz Rodgers on a big 17-yard rush. Ingram answered right back with another 3-yard touchdown, 1:20 left on the clock. Ryan pulled off a very nice drive to give the Falcons a chance to wrap things up in overtime.
Reasons to worry? Not really, not for both teams. The defenses didn’t look hot, with the cameras constantly focusing on Rob Ryan’s face after every big drive by the Falcons. Some things never change. But few teams have the offensive talent the Falcons do in order to fight their way back from such a bad start and falling behind twice in the fourth quarter. For now, Sean Payton shouldn’t be worried about such a loss.