First Quarter:The NFC South showdown that everyone was talking about didn't start as everyone expected. When the first quarter wrapped up, the game was tied, each team driving their offenses well, but settling for field goals in the redzone. The Falcons opened up the game with a 16-play drive that spent 8:40 on the clock. Both the number of plays in the drive and the time off the clock were season highs for the Falcons. Atlanta featured a heavy dose of Devonta Freeman on the first drive. The running back gained 39 yards on the ground and added ten yards on a pass reception.
Second Quarter:The second quarter featured a little more firepower, but most of it came from the wrong team. The Falcons took the lead on Josh Harris's second field goal, but the Saints responded late in the half with a touchdown to take a 10-6 lead. After dropping two passes earlier, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham found himself wide open in the endzone and managed to hold onto the Drew Brees pass. With 1:05 remaining the Falcons took one last shot at scoring, powered by a Matt Ryan 46-yard reception to bring Atlanta to New Orleans' 35-yard line. The Falcons would come away with no points on their last attempt of the half. Bryant missed a 41-yard field goal, ending his streak of consecutive field goals made at 30.
Third Quarter:The Saints missed a field goal of their own on their first drive of the second half and Atlanta responded with points on the board. The Falcons put together a drive paced by a Turner 24-yard run. On first-and-10 from New Orleans' 20, Matt Ryan connected with Jason Snelling for a short pass that Snelling willed into the endzone. After Snelling caught the pass, he split two converging tacklers and spun out of another defender to find the endzone. The touchdown gave the Falcons a 13-10 lead. New Orleans responded with a deep touchdown pass to Robert Meachem for 33 yards to take back the lead and storm into the game's final quarter.
Fourth Quarter:The fourth quarter began with a Ryan interception that looked like it may send the Saints to a run-away win. What it actually did was set off one of the most intense and fanatical finishes in the history of the Saints-Falcons rivalry. The Saints followed up the Ryan interception with two field goals and with 7:13 remaining, a Falcons drive materialized. When Atlanta needed it most, they turned to two reliable targets, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, in a drive with everything on the line. Atlanta capped a nine play drive with a 20-yard Gonzalez touchdown catch. The onside kick failed and the Falcons turned to their defense to get them the ball back. The Saints struggled to move the ball and a Ray Edwards backfield tackle of running back Mark Ingram resulted in a 4-yard loss. One play later the Saints kicked a field goal that was overturned by a holding penalty. Pushed back 10 yards, New Orleans opted to punt to the Falcons, who began with just less than two minutes remaining in the game. On the drive that took the remainder of the game, Ryan completed five passes bringing Atlanta to the New Orleans nine-yard line. Bryant kicked a field goal, tying the game and forcing overtime.
Overtime:Both teams traded possessions in OT and on Atlanta's second opportunity, they appeared to put something together. What looked to be a first down by fullback Mike Cox was overturned, forcing a fourth-and-1 from their own 29-yard line. After a timeout by each team, the Falcons ran Turner up the middle for no gain. The Saints resumed possession and four plays later were kicking a field goal for the 26-23 win.
Play of the Game:Although the game was won and lost through the course of the day, the key play came on Atlanta's last attempt. The Turner run that was stopped was integral in the decision because it gave the Saints the ball back with field position to score a field goal and win. Turner accumulated 96 yards on Sunday, rushing for an average 4.4 yards per carry. When the Falcons needed it the most, with New Orleans stacking the line of scrimmage, he was unable to deliver the final inches needed.
Player of the Game:Harry Douglas had a career day and once Julio Jones was unable to return with an injury, he became the Falcons second receiver. With the Saints playing heavy coverage on Roddy White, Douglas made a number of key catches late in the game. His second-quarter catch-and-run of 46 yards was the longest play of the game and contributed to Douglas' eight catch, 133-yard day.
Turning Point:Momentum swayed side to side throughout the game and as the two sides traded leads, the turning point appeared to change as well. Unfortunately for the Falcons, the true turning point of the game came to be a play that would have been the pivotal moment regardless of the outcome. The stop of Turner in overtime was the key play of the game in the outcome for both teams.
Stat of the Game:Zero percent. A stat that was sure to end eventually, but certainly allowed the Falcons to feel confident about their chances on Sunday was the Saints' performance this season on defense when opponents entered the redzone. This season they'd allowed the opposition inside the 20-yard line 21 times and gave up a score each time. That ended on Sunday. The Falcons reached that point of the field three times and failed to come away with any points.
Tweet of the Game:Falcons fans lived through agony in the final minutes of regulation and into overtime. On multiple occasions the Falcons appeared to have a sure loss and then a possible win and then a sure loss again. When overtime was forced by Bryant's field goal, fans of the home team felt the momentum just may be enough to seal a win. It at least allowed them to relax for a moment. Fan Melissa Murphy, @looovedrunk, shared this tweet moments before the game would end in extra time: "Bryant brings it to OT! Feel like I held my breath for last 5 minutes. #atlno11"
Quote of the Day: Roddy White said following the game that he believed his coach made the right coach going for the first down at his own 29-yard line. Hindsight says it was a questionable call, but given Atlanta's success in the running game, it made sense at the time. White said he was glad his coach had the confidence in the offense to make that call and it wasn't the sole reason the Falcons lost: "It says he has a lot of confidence in our offense to pick up the couple of inches that we needed. Unfortunately we didn't get it. We've done that before and we've gotten it. This time we came up short and didn't give ourselves a chance to win the game. There are so many plays in the game that we could have made in regulation where we got down to the goal line and couldn't punch it in. We could have ended it in regulation and couldn't do that. You can't fault the head coach for having the confidence in his team to make plays. If he had the opportunity to do it again, I'd hope he'd do it again."