From the beginning, it was clear the Saints were not going to roll over. In fact, it was quite clear they were going to play the best they had all season.
They did just that.
There was little different in this installment of the bitter Falcons-Saints rivalry than many of the previous matchups since Brees came to New Orleans.
In the end, the Falcons were not able to make many plays on defense or enough plays on offense.
That’s not to say a couple people didn’t stand out, just not enough.
Let’s get right to the heart of the matter, the Falcons’ winners and losers from Week 10 versus the Saints.
Matt Ryan continues to be the linchpin for Atlanta’s overall offensive success.
For much of the game, Ryan had some form of pressure around him, and play after play, he delivered, completing 34 passes for a career-high 411 yards with three touchdowns.
Once again, Ryan stood tall in the face of constant pressure and gave the Falcons a legitimate chance to win the game.
Tony Gonzalez continues to be one of the biggest threats in the league.
On Sunday, he set the mark for touchdown receptions by a tight end with his 100th as well as moving into second place all-time in career receptions behind only Jerry Rice.
His drop on the last play notwithstanding, the Falcons would not have been in position for the drop to matter without him in the first place.
Time after time throughout the game, Gonzalez made the play: the play that bailed the offense out, the play that got the big first down, the play that put the Falcons in the end zone.
In a game where top performances were few for Atlanta, Gonzalez was a big exception.
After Asante Samuel’s interception to start the day for the defense, it was an uphill climb the rest of the way.
All the progress made under Mike Nolan was absent against the Saints most of the day, as the Saints amassed just under 450 yards total and 31 points.
The inability to stop the run was the catalyst of the Saints’ success, as they rushed for 148 yards total and over five yards per rush.
The Falcons’ propensity for atrocious tackling returned, never more so than on Chris Ivory’s 46-yard touchdown run that involved numerous missed tackles and culminated with a highlight reel stiff arm on Dunta Robinson, which allowed him to score.
The defense mustered no pass rush at all, registering one sack, but with Brees staying upright and comfortable much of the day.
There was just never a moment when the feeling prevailed that the defense as a unit or an individual player was going to make the big stop necessary to allow the defense to win it for Atlanta.
Whether it was linebacker Stephen Nicholas, safety William Moore or nickel corner Robert McClain, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham faced little resistance from Falcons defenders as he finished with seven receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns.
It was clear from the onset that Graham was going to be the Falcons’ biggest matchup problem. Nothing defensive coordinator Mike Nolan tried worked to slow Graham.
Nicholas has the most trouble, as he drew the coverage assignment most of the game. Whether in man or zone, Graham simply outplayed Nicholas each time.
Safety William Moore’s moment was more about being over-aggressive on Graham’s double move on a slant and go more so than an overall lack of ability to cover.
As for McClain, he got swallowed up by Graham’s size; just too small to handle the sizeable athlete Graham is.
Atlanta had the ball with a chance to win the game despite its offensive line.
Matt Ryan set his career high for single-game passing yards despite his offensive line.
Pat Hill’s unit posted arguably its most disappointing performance of the season to date.
Though it only gave up one sack, Ryan faced pressure most of the game and had to produce the best game of his career for the Falcons to have a chance.
Most concerning, however, is that the Saints were able to create such havoc utilizing a four-man rush much of the game.
Furthermore, Atlanta only rushed for 46 yards and was stuffed in three separate short-yardage situations, two on the goal line.