Allow me to preface this by admitting that I'm not a film study guy. I leave that expertise to my contemporaries, Andrew Juge, JR Ella, and Kevin Skiver. Those guys are phenomenal at breaking down film and dissecting minutiae. I, on the other hand, consume the game and get wrapped up in the emotions of the moment and the aftermath. This game though, presented an occasion that compelled me to re-watch this New Orleans Saints game and break it down objectively. Emotions ran high within our collective ranks immediately following the game, but after taking some time to objectively look at the game, I took note of thirteen plays that effectively cost the Saints victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
Crucial Play #1
3rd & 12 - 4:44 remaining, 2nd Quarter
Devonta Freeman converts a short pass from Matt Ryan into a 13 yard gain, while three of the Saints' top defenders fail to make the stop. This play was worth a 4 point swing, as it turned a certain Matt Bryant field goal on the next play into a Roddy White touchdown instead. You just can't give away points like that.
1st & 10 - 0:20 remaining, 2nd Quarter
This is the patented "Under a minute Matt Ryan field goal drive". Ryan's rollout on the following play was more impressive and flashier, but it was set up by this. This play is the epitome of Atlanta's "Bread & Butter" one minute drill to get in Matt Bryant's kicking range. The Falcons have been doing this for 5+ years, and the Saints still allowed it to happen. Was there film of this play for the Saints to study before the game? Of course there was, Every Atlanta win since 2010 was set up by this very play.
3rd & 1 - 11:53 remaining, 3rd Quarter
Jacquizz Rodgers, not bruiser Steven Jackson, was allowed to break the Saints d-line and sustain the opening drive of the second half. That just shouldn't happen, Atlanta's momentum carries over.
3rd & 10 - 10:42 remaining, 3rd Quarter
On the same drive as play #3, we have an egregious breakdown. While Roddy White was playing quite well, under no circumstances should Patrick Robinson be assigned to cover Julio Jones one-on-one. That's gotta be Keenan Lewis' assignment, plain and simple. PRob's soft positioning and lack of awareness assisted a receiver that needs no assistance in making an easy catch.
A drive that should have ended over a minute earlier, ended in a tide-turning TD.
3rd & 8 - 7:27 remaining, 3rd Quarter
This was the poorest play in design and execution of the game. Whatever this was intended to be, it failed, and it stifled momentum for the Saints.
Even if the D-line got a hand on the pass, why would you go to Jimmy Graham with that coverage, in that position, on that down and distance? Even if somehow that was intended for Brandin Cooks and was deflected, he still wouldn't have gotten the first with a defender closing, failing to reach the needed yardage. Very poor, and it looked silly.
3rd & 7 - 3:05 remaining, 3rd Quarter
This is THE most crucial play of the game. The Brees interception going to Brandin Cooks in the end zone. In hindsight, Brees should've passed to Marques Colston at the line and let him fight for the first down. That one play turned from the stake in the heart of the Falcons into the shot of adrenaline into their heart. This play represents a drastic points swing as well as an emotional one. This play sealed the Saints fate in the game.
2nd & 9 - 0:33 remaining, 3rd Quarter
This play is the Falcons' payoff for the INT over two minutes earlier. Four missed tackles on Antone Smith's 54 yard TD run. We had not witnessed failure like this from a Rob Ryan led Saints defense before. This play was inexcusable.
2nd & 6 - 6:40 remaining, 4th Quarter
Marques Colston trips on Paul Worrilow's heels at the end of his route. Now, Pierre Thomas was open underneath and could have gained the first down had Brees looked his way. A potential time killing drive, with the Saints in the lead, is turned into a punt two plays later.
3rd & 6 - 5:12 remaining, 4th Quarter
With both safeties playing deep and Curtis Lofton blitzing, Matt Ryan and Devin Hester read and react perfectly. Considering the down and distance, I'm both confused and stunned by Rob Ryan's design here at this point. Hester gains 15 yards on the play and breaks three tackles, gaining a pivotal first down. This is the second big play featuring awful tackling by the Saints.
2nd & 7 - 4:04 remaining, 4th Quarter
Matt Ryan hits a wide open Harry Douglas who was being covered by... David Hawthorne?! I kid you not, David freaking Hawthorne drew this assignment and Atlanta sniffed it out.
Unsurprisingly, a huge first down for Atlanta.
2nd & 2 - 2:59 remaining, 4th Quarter
Jacquizz Rodgers breaks two tackles and makes a few shifty moves which leaves five Saints defenders completely flat-footed. Inexcusable. Atlanta takes a 4 point lead late, on this play.
2nd & 10 - 0:40 remaining, 4th Quarter
Remember what I said in play #2 about the Falcons' "Bread & Butter" with under a minute left? Well, that came to play again here, in spades. This is the quintessential "Get Matt Bryant into range to tie or win the game" play by Matt Ryan.
Matt Ryan's job is to keep his team in a game long enough to get Matt Bryant in position to win it for him in the end, every even-numbered season. Of course, if you hadn't noticed, that was once again David Hawthorne in coverage there. That's getting increasingly painful to watch.
Okay, before we move on to the final play, let's address the impact of this game for the Falcons from the top down. Don't try to tell me that this game didn't mean EVERYTHING to the Falcons organization. Their owner and general M=manager were on the sidelines exchanging high fives after the game tying field goal.
This type of top-level insecurity could only be trumped if Jerry Jones could clone himself and proceed to do the exact same thing on the Dallas sideline. Look, I get that Tom Benson did the "Benson Boogie" on the field after milestone wins in the past, but the man never "boogied" with his GM, just ten feet away from his head coach during a game. You just know Arthur Blank and Thomas Dimitroff were sweating through their cheap suits just before Matt Bryant sent the game to OT.
2nd & 10 - 14:58 remaining, Overtime
The Marques Colston fumble, it speaks for itself. Colston takes way too much flack for this game, but in my estimation after re-watching the game, this was the only terrible play for him.
That's your ballgame, folks! While the narrative of "Atlanta played their offensive best and New Orleans played their defensive worst, and the Falcons still needed a late field goal and OT to win, at home" is slightly overplayed, it is, indeed fact. It is too fact that Atlanta's offense made the Saints D look so bad. When you look back though, it wasn't until late in the third quarter that it really started to unfold that way.
It may seem like a game-long defensive travesty by the Saints, but it really was an atrocious quarter and a half that doomed the Saints. The positive is that the Saints can and should turn that around, and it starts Week 2 in Cleveland. I have no doubt though, that the Saints defense looks forward to the opportunity for redemption in Week 16 against the Falcons in the Superdome. I expect some massive redemption for Marques Colston in that game as well.
The Saints just got an early wake up call, and hopefully we'll be seeing a motivated team that won't "eat the cheese" and buy into the hype. I don't envy the Saints in practice this week, and I certainly don't envy the Browns in Week 2.
(Many thanks to SB Nation's Clay Wendler for providing those 5 helpful GIF's!)