ATLANTA – You just knew this one was coming down to the end.
The Falcons and Saints went back and forth, trading blow after blow on Sunday. The longer the game went on, the more apparent it was that whichever team had the ball last would win.
And that's exactly what happened.
After combining for a ridiculous 941 yards of total offense, 80 points, 34 first downs and 25 drives, it was the Saints who had the ball and scored last – a 1-yard leap by Drew Brees – for a 43-37 overtime win.
As well as the Falcons played, it must've felt like a sucker punch in the end for the boisterous crowd that packed into Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Let's face it, losing to the Saints is never good, and this one was gut-wrenching.
The other harsh reality is that the Falcons were undermanned in a big way coming into this one. Not to sound like I'm making excuses here, but the Falcons were missing some important pieces out there Sunday and still hung with the Saints. Scoring 37 points certainly helped.
Four players were out on defense – including a pair of Pro Bowlers and two of their defensive ends – and two more were out on offense. Think about some of the players the Falcons were without:
- Keanu Neal (knee) and Andy Levitre (triceps) have been lost for the season.
- The soonest Deion Jones (foot) can be back in uniform is Nov. 18.
- Devonta Freeman (knee) missed a second games and is considered day to day.
- Takk McKinley and Derrick Shelby missed Sunday's game with groin injuries.
And during the game Atlanta lost safety Ricardo Allen to a calf injury, who many refer to as the quarterback of the defense.
Still, I thought it was a gutsy performance by the Falcons. And players who needed to step up, did so. Rookie Calvin Ridley had seven catches for 146 yards and three touchdowns. Linebacker Duke Riley had a game-high 12 tackles, including eight solo stops. And safety Damontae Kazee, who's also been thrust into a more prominent role, added nine more tackles.
Oh, and let's not forget about oft-criticized offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, either. For the second straight game the Falcons were perfect in the red zone, going 4 for 4.
That's got to be encouraging for the Falcons, who now must regroup and get ready to face the Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) next Sunday at home.
Despite the numbers and the gaudy stat lines for a number of players, it's all about wins and losses in the end. Instead of going up 2-1 and 2-0 in the NFC South, the Falcons fall to 1-2 on the season and 1-1 in the division.
That's the reality.