Saints vs. Falcons: Missed Opportunities Name Of The Game For Atlanta

Ryan ComstockCorrespondent IDecember 28, 2010

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 27:  Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith waits on the field during the game against the New Orleans Saints at the Georgia Dome on December 27, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In falling to the New Orleans Saints by a final score of 17-14, the Atlanta Falcons missed their first opportunity at securing the NFC's No. 1 seed.

They will have a shot at it again next week against the Carolina Panthers—a game in which they will be heavily favored.

It would take an epic collapse for the Falcons to miss out on the conference's top spot, and it is extremely unlikely that Atlanta will fail to do so.

Still, it would have been great for Atlanta to stick it to the rival Saints, beating them twice this season and celebrating mightily in the process.

The Falcons will look back at uncharacteristic miscues as the reason they lost this game.

The first came when center Todd McClure inexplicably failed to snap the ball to quarterback Matt Ryan in a shotgun set. McClure seemed unable to even get the ball off the ground, simply moving it slightly and allowing New Orleans to recover in Atlanta territory.

The Falcons had a chance to put together a pretty good drive right there, and at the very least would have had the advantage in terms of field position.

New Orleans would go on to score a touchdown on a Pierre Thomas run, attaining a 10-0 lead.

As has been the mantra of this Falcon team all season, they did not blink and promptly scored a touchdown of their own on a pass from Ryan to Roddy White.

The second and biggest error of the game came with the team down three in the third quarter.

The Falcons were moving the ball. After a pass interference penalty gave them the rock at the Saints one-yard line, Atlanta handed it off to their workhorse back Michael Turner.

Turner was stuffed on his first attempt, but the Falcons figured that, as long as they kept giving it to him, he would eventually punch it in.

What happened next was absolutely shocking.

Turner fumbled, the first time he has lost the ball all year, negating the chance to, at worst, tie the game with a field goal.

While Atlanta would go on to take a brief lead on defensive end Chauncey Davis' interception return for a touchdown, the Falcons offense never again got that close.

The defense did everything that could have been expected of them. Holding this high-powered Saints offense under 14 points was simply too much to ask.

Atlanta's offense, which has looked so, so good this year, failed in the biggest game of the season, gaining only 215 total yards.

New Orleans showed us why they are the defending Super Bowl champs and they showed us where this Falcons team must get to.

Again, it is highly unlikely that the Falcons will fail to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and Monday night's game will give them a good dose of what is in store come playoff time.

If they wish to make it all the way to Dallas though, they will need to cash-in on all their chances, something they could not do against the Saints.