I'd love to gush over how awesome the offense was, but they had numerous opportunities to kill this game and they simply didn't. The offense settled all too often for long field goals when their drives stalled. The team's inability to convert third and manageable was most maddening in this one, though the lack of success running the ball certainly didn't help move the chains either.
The offense made some plays, no doubt, but the big plays came most often from the defense and special teams in this one. Luckily for the Saints John Kasay converted on a number of long kicks I didn't expect him to hit, to help turn inefficient drives into points. The 16 carries for 41 yards was lame, and the 43 passes to 16 rushes is hardly a semblance of balance.
But what I found most positive about this game was Drew Brees only getting hit twice, no sacks and, most importantly, no turnovers. The Saints offense avoided all major mistakes, and ultimately that's why they won the game. Make the jump for the grades.Drew Brees: A- (3.27) Brees had a clean pocket and terrific protection to find the open receiver and for the most part he took advantage. It wasn't an amazing performance, but it was extremely clean and solid. The major negative was the 4 for 13 3rd down conversion rate and Brees was partially responsible for that, though he was also victimized by drops and good defensive anticipation. Still, Brees took terrific care of the football and managed to drive down the field despite no running game to help him. He finished 30 for 43 for 322 yards, 2 touchdown and no interceptions.
Darren Sproles: D+ (3.13) By far his worst performance of the season. He was shut down completely for the first time. He had 2 carries for 1 yard and 4 catches for 2 yards. That totals 6 touches for 3 yards. Atlanta was all over him and he wasn't able to break any tackles. The Falcons swarmed all over him and it was clear their game plan was to take him out of the game and they did it effectively. He almost broke a kickoff return which was the only real contribution he made, but a shoestring tackle stopped him from breaking it loose. He averaged 28 yards per return on 3 kickoff returns.
Mark Ingram: D (2.46) Like Sproles his contribution was utterly useless. He had 8 carries for a whooping 11 yards and was a complete non factor. I'm not sure if he wasn't recovered from his injury or if the Falcons' run defense was really that good, but it did seem to be very tough sledding out there. He also had one reception for 3 yards.
Pierre Thomas: B (2.97) Why he didn't get more snaps on this one I'll never know. At some point don't you have to stick with him when he demonstrates that he's clearly the best back out there? He had 29 yards on just 6 carries and 4 catches for 9 yards. Nowhere near enough involvement if you ask me. His pass protection, by the way, was nothing short of outstanding.
Jed Collins: C (2.93) The lone play he made was a big first down 12 yard reception in overtime that helped set up the easy game winning field goal. Otherwise, his blocking was poor and he struggled to get the running game going.
Jimmy Graham: C+ (3.20) If you look at the stats, you'd figure he had another very solid game. He finished with 7 catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. But honestly, that could have easily been 10 catches for 150 yards. He had 2 third down drops that were easy catches and unacceptable. In addition, he just looked out of it. Timing routes with Brees looked out of sync and he just didn't have a nose for the ball out there on a number of passes. He also negated a crucial field goal late in the game due to a holding penalty that forced the Saints to punt instead. It was a game that showed his lack of experience and focus. As great of an athlete and physical specimen as he is, he's still a bit of an unfinished product.
David Thomas: B- (1.87) Too bad he got hurt because the Saints could have really used his blocking. Before getting hurt he had 2 receptions for 4 yards, though one was a safety valve flare in the flat that lost 4 yards. The other was a nice 8 yard hook on the opening drive where he did a good job absorbing contact. His blocking was solid before he left. I've heard no word on what his injury was, but I hope it wasn't another head injury that's cost his most of the season to this point.
John Gilmore: C- (2.00) Another mediocre blocking effort off the edge from the "blocking specialist". Yawn.
Marques Colston: A (3.04) 8 catches for 113 yards and the Saints needed every single one of them. He was a beast. He moved the chains incessantly and he was the only player on the offense consistently performing. I don't know where this offense would be without him. He used his frame and terrific hands to continually make plays in traffic and he took numerous shots like a champ popping right back up after them. He's sore, I'm sure, with his plated collarbone.
Lance Moore: B (2.93) He had just one reception for 28 yards, on a nice double move down the sideline. He also drew a pass interference and recovered the offsides kick before taking a fairly big hit from the kicker. It was more quiet than usual from Moore, but his contributions were helpful.
Robert Meachem: A- (2.37) Like a phoenix he's risen from the ashes. He's been invisible in the offense lately, and by no means is 2 receptions a big improvement, but those two receptions he had were huge. Both catches were borderline circus, and they went for 69 yards and a touchdown. Talk about maximizing your opportunities. His first reception he did an amazing job not letting the ball touch the ground by getting his hands under the ball, and his second was over Thomas Decoud's outstretched hands and over his shoulder where he did a nice job getting both feet in. Terrific effort.
Devery Henderson: D (2.27) No catches for Henderson, who was targeted twice. He had a drop on an out route, and he was overthrown on a deep pass. I'm not sure if his lack of involvement is Payton's fault, Brees' fault, or Henderson not getting open, but it's sad to see him so quiet when he was off to such a fast start this season. I'm hopeful he's going to bounce back and have a big game soon. He deserves it.
Jermon Bushrod: B- (2.63) His pass blocking was largely impeccable except for a holding penalty. His run blocking was largely bad. The Falcons did have to move Abraham around to make him effective because he struggled straight up against Bushrod.
Carl Nicks: C- (2.73) His run blocking just didn't get it done. I have to say, the Falcons' interior was pretty impressive. They've got a nice little tandem with Peters, Jerry and Babineaux. Nicks didn't get the push he normally does. His most disappointing blocks were a 3rd down screen pass to Sproles where he whiffed on a pull block that resulted in a loss, and a poor seal block on a short yardage run that resulted in Ray Edwards rocking Mark Ingram for a big loss.
Brian de la Puente: C+ (2.50) He had a quiet day and was largely protected by the two guards next to him for most of the day. He didn't get much of a push but he wasn't responsible for the lack of success either.
Jahri Evans: B+ (3.17) His superior play this year continues to impress. The Saints ran play action fakes incessantly in this game and Evans pulled often to seal the backside. He really runs a clinic out there and his technique is flawless. Brees' blindside on those fakes was always clean and clear thanks to Evans. There was no impressive power in the trenches, but the pass blocking deserves an A+.
Zach Strief: B+ (2.80) It's very strange, but ever since he's been back from his knee injury he's played much better. It's almost like the time away somehow improved his game. His edge blocking was overall very solid. The edge rushing to his side didn't always work great, but let's face it, the line overall didn't deliver in that department. His pass blocking, like last week, was surprisingly very good.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Marques Colston