Familiar Mistakes Prove Costly:After starting the year 5-0, the Falcons ended with a .500 record thanks, in large part, to their negative turnover ratio, red zone woes and costly penalties. These three issues were prevalent yet again during the season finale: With a chance to jump ahead late in regulation, Andy Levitre committed an unnecessary roughness infraction that moved the offense out of Shayne Graham's range, forcing a punt. Devonta Freeman lost the ball on New Orleans' four-yard line earlier in the fourth quarter, and with more than a minute and a half to orchestrate a game-winning drive, Matt Ryan threw an interception that allowed New Orleans to kick a field goal as time expired.
"I think we had 400-plus yards, and for us to come away with only 17 points—that's probably the most disappointing part of the entire game," Ryan said. "We had plenty of opportunities to capitalize on some of the things we did well offensively, and we weren't able to put it in the end zone.
Freeman Hits 1K: His fumble notwithstanding, Freeman turned in another impressive performance, this time racking up 99 all-purpose yards—81 on the ground, 18 through the air. He also became the first Falcon to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Michael Turner in 2011.
Now on his way to the Pro Bowl, Freeman ended his second NFL campaign with 1,061 rushing yards, 578 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. By eclipsing 1,600 all-purpose yards versus New Orleans, he became the first Falcon to do so since 2008 (Turner).
"What a competitor, isn't he?" Quinn said of Freeman. "It's not just the runs; it's the catches out of the backfield, the first downs that he has. It's the explosive plays that he makes. He exemplifies everything that I love about ball. The energy, the passion, the juice that he brings to us—he just lives it every day, and he's got a terrific future ahead of him."
Jones Makes History: Julio Jones brought an end to his remarkable year with nine receptions for 149 receiving yards—his ninth 100-yard showing of 2015. Those stellar numbers moved him up in a pair of big all-time receiving categories: By carving up New Orleans' defense, Jones on Sunday rose to second all-time in single-season receptions (136) and second all-time in single season receiving yards (1,871), passing Hall of Famer Jerry Rice.
"It was unbelievable to be a part of it," Ryan said Jones' year. "It was as good as you can play as an individual. He was a big part of our success this year and has been in the past, but he was so active for us. I'm so proud of him. He's the best teammate you can possibly ask for."
Tight Ends Thrive: Veteran TE Tony Moeaki ended his year on a high note by registering his first touchdown catch of the season—a 42-yard reception, the second-longest catch of his NFL career. Not to be forgotten, Jacob Tamme had a productive day, as well, earning 61 receiving yards to bring his 2015 total to 657—the second-most on the team.
King Displays Progress: Rookie Akeem King came up big late in the fourth quarter when he forced an incomplete pass to Ben Watson and forced New Orleans to punt. King, a seventh-round pick, has matured a lot since training camp and made the most of his chance to show the world how far he's come.
"I was really proud of Akeem, especially matched up there at the end," said Quinn. "We played dime; we had man-to-man … I thought it was a really significant play by him. One to give him confidence, and two for his teammates—man, you can count on him."