Full disclosure: I was certain that the Saints were going to get their collective derrieres handed to them last night. Oh me of little faith. But I double dare most of you to go in the comments section and say that you thought New Orleans would beat the Falcons the way they did last night: playing defense with an efficiency we simply haven't seen this year. "Round" Ryan said his defense was about to break through. Whether Ryan really believed it or was just doing his usual bravado act, he proved to be clairvoyant. Here are the Five Big Things that I took from last night's victory over the dirty birds.
1) The Defense Gets My Game Ball.
Before I start, let's slow down: the ‘85 Bears, this Saints defense is not. They're actually kind of the opposite of that. New Orleans still gave up 445 yards of total offense (295 passing, 150 rushing) to the Falcons last night. But if you've read me before, you know what I think about "total yards" as a stat: as misleading as a sincere hustler on Bourbon Street.
However, there was plenty to be encouraged by last night and here's what was really impressive: five sacks, three fumble recoveries, holding the Falcons to 3 of 12 on third down (25%) and limiting Julio Jones to six catches for 93 yards and no touchdowns. That's the very definition of "bend-but-don't-break." If the Saints can play this way the rest of the year defensively, they may very well give Brees and Co. and chance to come together as an offense and make New Orleans a team that a lot of opponents will not look forward to facing.
2) Elementary, My Dear Watson!
When the New Orleans Saints let tight end Jimmy Graham go in the offseason, what it meant was that there would be more receiving opportunities for Josh Hill and Ben Watson...in theory. Until last night, none of them really stepped up to become Brees' go-to tight end. Against Atlanta in the Superdome last night, 34-year old Benjamin Watson said: "Jimmy Who?" Check out this stat line: 12 targets, 10 catches, 127 yards, a reception-long of 28 yards and a touchdown. Watson actually had a drop late in the first half as the Saints were executing a beautiful two-minute drill that would have made his numbers look even better. Here's to hoping that last night wasn't a fluke for Watson and that he indeed becomes a guy that Saints opponents have to game-plan for. That would very make life easier on guys like Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and Josh Hill.
3) Nice to Meet You Again, Mister Jordan.
Six total tackles, including five solo. Three sacks, a bevy of quarterback hurries and to punctuate the night, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery too bury Atlanta and send them back home. That's what we expect from defensive end Cameron Jordan every game. Until Thursday night, Jordan had been leading the NFL in "almost-sacks" with about 1200 of them. It was awesome to finally see the Saints' best defensive player step up and earn the reputation he has as one of the best young pass rushers in the NFL, at least in terms of potential. Let's hope we see this again in 10 days at Indianapolis, against another team, the Colts, with a fairly shaky offensive line.
4) Nice to Have Known You, Mister Hocker.
Zach Hocker continues is steady descent into Sean Payton's doghouse. Truth is, with 10 days between games, I'd be very surprised if Hocker is still on the team when New Orleans plays at Indianapolis on October 25th. Hocker missed two more field goals last night (he is now 9 for 13 of field goal attempts on the season, a fairly terrible 69% make percentage) and has simply not made any type of pressure kick this season. He missed a 51-yarder that would have extended New Orleans' 14-7 lead to ten points just before the half, and then he also missed a 49-yard field goal that would have effectively put the game away with the Saints leading 31-14 with about four minutes left in the fourth quarter. Knowing how impatient Sean Payton is with kickers, it is fairly safe to say that Zach Hocker has likely missed his last field goal in a Saints' uniform last night.
5) Did You Have Chills Too? I Know I Did
With the Saints leading 7-0 in the first quarter, the Falcons took possession of the ball but were forced to punt. Mandeville native Michael Mauti split the Falcons' punt protection line and blocked Matt Bosher's punt, recovered the ball himself and fell into the endzone for New Orleans' second touchdown of the night and a 14-0 lead. Steve Gleason who was in attendance immediately tweeted: "Hey Atlanta #NeverPunt" and gave a wink to the cameras as they almost instantly found him. Yeah, by now you know where I'm going with this: it felt eerily similar to that immortal blocked punt by none other than Gleason himself on that unforgettable night of September 25, 2006 down to the color combination of the uniforms the two teams wore. Some things don't get old, and beating the Falcons is certainly one of those. But what a cherry on top that was! I still have chills just writing about it.