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Five Things We Learned vs. Saints

Posted Sep 8, 2013

It wasn't the way they wanted to start the regular season, but the Falcons played a tough game in Sunday's 23-17 loss to the division rival Saints. They flashed power on offense and some young players came to play, but a few ill-timed misses couldn't be overcome.

1. Missed Opportunities: The Falcons have had a reputation for finishing close games for a number of years now with Matt Ryan under center. In Sunday's opener they had another chance to create an unforgettable, walk-off win, but they couldn't punch it in with 49 seconds to go in the ball game. That was just the last in a few chances the Falcons had throughout the game to swing things back into their control. After jumping out to a first-quarter 10-0 lead, the Falcons and Saints played a close one throughout. There appeared to be the spark they needed in the third quarter when Ryan found Julio Jones on a 4-yard touchdown pass, but on their next three possessions, the Falcons offense was forced to punt. Following a Robert Alford interception in the third quarter, they still were unable to get things going. The Falcons demonstrated an ability to efficiently move the ball against New Orleans' defense, but finishing 3-for-11 on third downs and 2-of-4 inside the red zone made for a long day on the scoreboard.

PHOTOS: View Gameday Photos of Falcons vs. Saints

2. Offensive Line Allows 3 Sacks: There's no individual player to single out on the offensive line in Sunday's three-sack performance. Saints pressure came from a lot of places at Ryan and although he completed 66 percent of his passes, the pressure slowed the Falcons offense at times. Veteran left tackle Sam Baker had a costly holding penalty to wipe out a 17-yard third-down conversion to Harry Douglas in the fourth quarter. Instead of a fresh set of downs, the Falcons offense faced a third-and-18 and couldn't convert. The line did help the Falcons average 6.3 yards per carry in the rushing game, but the pass protection came up a little short in key situations.

PHOTOS: View Pregame Photos in New Orleans

3. Jackson Has A Role: Flipping through the stat sheet, it looks like the Falcons offense had a really good day. The outcome on the scoreboard changes that opinion a little, but Sunday's loss did show what kind of player Steven Jackson can be in Atlanta's 2013 offense. Jackson was involved in the running and passing game and was extremely productive in both. He rushed 11 times for 77 yards, including a 50-yard run in the third quarter. He added five catches for 45 yards, giving him 122 all-purpose yards. Jackson showed an ability to stay consistent in the run game, breaking tackles and getting tough yards while also opening up a big play with the long run.

4. Young DBs Came To Play: With news that Asante Samuel would be out when the game began, everyone knew Atlanta's two rookie corners would play pivotal roles. The only thing that was uncertain was what exactly those roles would look like. With Drew Brees powering a Saints pass-happy attack, it didn't take long for the quarterback to begin to test the Falcons secondary, targeting Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. Brees' third pass of the game went Alford's way and he knocked it away, ending an attempted third-down conversion for the Saints. In the second quarter, Trufant knocked away a pass and McClain got in the action with a pass deflection as well in the first half. Both rookies knocked away passes on third downs, giving Atlanta encouraging signs of the maturation of their two young corners. Alford didn't stop there and after ending the preseason with two straight picks, he began the regular season with one as well. Late in the third quarter, Alford picked off a deep Brees pass and ended the day with one tackle, one interception and two passes defensed. Trufant had five tackles and one pass defensed.

5. Tough NFC South Fight: It's just the first game of the season so it's far too early to be too concerned. The Falcons have overcome tough losses to begin the season under head coach Mike Smith before. That's no consolation, but Sunday's game did confirm that the NFC South is one of the toughest divisions in football. The Saints and Falcons have traded titles in the division and they've consistently battled each year for a top seed in the conference. There's a long way to go, but it already looks like two of the best teams in the NFC live in the NFC South.