Whew! What a game, Who Dat Nation!
That above sentence might have been the best one I have written all year. There is no doubt that this was a huge one for the Saints. It gets them one step closer to .500, but it also was against their most hated "rival." (I use the term rather loosely, as New Orleans has beaten Atlanta 11 out of 13 times since '06.)
This was another rough game to pick out the losers from the stockpile of winners that came from this win, but I will try my best!
Let's get to the "awards"!
Who would have known that the Saints defense would have been a strength of this team, but it's beginning to be that way with the way it has played the past two weeks, especially against Atlanta.
Save for an 18-yard run from Jacquizz Rodgers late in the fourth quarter when the Saints were in a prevent defense, New Orleans held the Dirty Birds to 28 yards on 17 carries. That is extremely impressive no matter who you play.
The Falcons were a non-factor on the ground, and it showed in the way Coach Spagnuolo could have only dreamed. With their dominance against the run well in hand, Spagnuolo pinned the Saints pass-rushers' ears back, and let them loose.
The rush defense set the tone, and the entire team felt its energy the rest of the game.
This "loser" (and the next one) will probably be cop-outs, but their absences were noticed, and not in a bad way.
Zach Strief, hindered by injuries of late, was inactive against Atlanta, and the Saints never missed a step.
Yes, I'm as shocked as you that Charles Brown wasn't a household name to America by the time the clocks went triple zeroes. That was one heck of a game by Brown, who must have taken control of someone else's body, because that wasn't the Brown we were used to.
And Saints fans are OK with that, but Strief might not be. He has kept Brown at bay for the starting right tackle position by default based solely on the 2010 second-round pick's inability to get out of his own way.
If Brown builds on this performance going forward, Strief might be out of luck come this offseason.
Hello, running game!
This was a long time coming, and the process of getting the running game going has been accelerated since Joe Vitt came back to the team. Vitt is a defensive-minded coach who knows the value of having a good run game to keep his defense fresh, and guess what?
The return of Chris Ivory to the lineup has helped a little, also.
The Saints had 148 yards on 29 carries for an average of over five yards a carry. That is very impressive against a supposed tough defense. I guess they miss Sean Weatherspoon more than they thought.
It wasn't just Ivory, who went for 72 yards at a 10-yard clip, but Mark Ingram who was continuing his success from last week as well. He is running with more of a purpose nowadays. Ivory might have been the best thing that happened to Ingram.
This needs to continue, because Drew Brees is deadly off the play-action.
Again, like Strief, Scott Shanle didn't play in this game, but Saints fans may no longer have to see him trailing behind in coverage or being blocked out of a play if today's performance by the starting linebacking unit is any indication for the rest of the year.
Curtis Lofton, Jonathan Vilma and David Hawthorne were excellent in the run game. Their pass coverage left something to be desired, but they never gave up the big play.
That can't be said for Jonathan Casillas and Shanle in previous games.
Now, let's not get too carried away with this unit because they are still injury-prone to the tee, but, if it can stay healthy, this might be the starting unit that is the best fit for Spags' defense.
That picture says it all.
Jimmy Graham has been on fire since returning from injury a few weeks ago. He has definitely come back with a vengeance.
He had 146 yards on seven catches and, oh yeah, two touchdown catches. He did have his weekly drop, but boy did he make up for it!
It's no surprise that Graham has stepped up his game in the wake of Darren Sproles' absence. He is the biggest mismatch for the Saints to exploit.
Look for Graham to continue his dominance versus Oakland next week.
It really isn't fair for me to call this unit "losers," because we all knew Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Julio Jones would get their yards, but they way the trio did it was sickening.
In the first half, there was almost no friction to the Falcons passing game from the New Orleans back seven. The unit tightened up in the second half, but there were wide open players finding holes in Spags' zone and long passes down the field.
All the yards given up by this group can be associated with the lack of pressure put on Matt Ryan. The front four flushed Ryan out of the pocket but couldn't seal the deal. His ability to extend plays really put the Saints in tough situations.
The secondary came up with plays when needed late in the game, but, overall, it is a tough day when the opposing quarterback starts off 10-of-10 and never truly cools off. Ryan got his yards but was ultimately contained. Much to the dismay of Falcon fans.