It had to happen at some point. Unfortunately, it happened against a division rival.
The Atlanta Falcons put their unblemished record on the line against the New Orleans Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and left with a 31-27 loss. The Falcons fell to 8-1, and the Saints improved to 4-5.
In a game that saw Matt Ryan carve up a porous Saints secondary for a career-high 411 yards, that same secondary would make the play that ultimately won the game.
With 2:00 remaining in the game, the Falcons were second and goal on the New Orleans one yard line. An incomplete pass intended for Tony Gonzalez and a run for a loss of one yard by Michael Turner put the Falcons in fourth and goal at the two yard line. Saints cornerback Jabari Greer batted away the pass intended for Roddy White over the middle, and the Falcons turned the ball over on downs.
The Falcons’ inability to pick up a single yard was reminiscent of last year’s failures.
Atlanta would get another crack at winning the game. They held New Orleans to a three and out, but another comeback wasn’t in the cards for Ryan and the Falcons.
Through the first eight games of the season, the Saints gave up a league-high 176.5 rushing yards per game. The Falcons only managed to rush for 46 yards as a team. Turner rushed 13 times for a paltry 15 yards. Those are inexcusable numbers when going up against far and away the worst rushing defense in the league.
While the Falcons struggled to run the ball, they had no trouble moving the ball through the air. Ryan tied career-highs in completions (34) and attempts (52) and threw for 411 yards along with three touchdowns and an interception.
Ryan’s primary beneficiary was Gonzalez, who caught 11 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns. Gonzalez also became the first tight end in NFL history to reach 100 touchdowns.
Roddy White had his fourth 100-yard receiving game on the season, hauling in seven catches for 114 yards.
Julio Jones suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter, but he returned in the third quarter. He finished with four receptions for 75 yards, including a huge 52-yarder in the fourth quarter.
Asante Samuel managed to pick off Drew Brees’ first pass of the game, but Atlanta was unable to generate any additional turnovers.
Brees finished with 298 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception on 21/32 passing. His favorite target was Jimmy Graham, and the Falcons had no answer for that connection. Graham had seven receptions for 146 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Atlanta allowed New Orleans to get its longest run from scrimmage since 2006. Chris Ivory broke tackles and forced a few Falcons to take terrible angles en route to a 57-yard touchdown. As a whole, the Falcons gave up 148 rushing yards to a team that averaged 81.0 yards per game coming into today.
The Falcons opened the game with an 80-yard scoring drive, capped off with a one-yard touchdown pass to backup tackle Mike Johnson. Samuel intercepted a Drew Brees pass on the Saints’ first possession, and the Falcons ending the drive with a 37-yard field goal.
It looked as though the Falcons were going to be in control for the majority of the game after storming out to a 10-0 lead, but New Orleans responded with two touchdowns to take a 14-10 lead.
The Saints owned the biggest lead of the day when they went up 28-17.
While the Falcons no longer have a shot at a perfect season, the loss will undoubtedly do the Falcons a tremendous favor. The weight of being an undefeated team is now gone, and a loss can force this team to refocus. And this team has a lot of refocusing to do.
Next up: the Arizona Cardinals in the Georgia Dome.