You knew it was going to be good. But no one could have predicted just how good. In a game with more twists and turns than Lombard Street, the Falcons willed themselves past the World Champion Saints in an overtime classic, 27-24. Matt Bryant's 46-yard field goal in overtime capped a wild game that featured over 800 yards in total offense. The Falcons (2-1) are now in a three-way tie atop the NFC South, along with New Orleans and Tampa Bay.
Here are five of the biggest storylines and determining factors in the enormous win over New Orleans.
1. The Drive
With things starting to look bleak in the first half as New Orleans was up 14-7 and seemingly owned momentum, the Falcons caught a huge break when safety Thomas DeCoud intercepted a rare Drew Brees mistake to give the ball back to Atlanta. From there, quarterback Matt Ryan put together a masterful drive that went 19 plays, 72 yards and took 10:39 off the clock (still not nearly as long as it takes to get to the Superdome press box in the rafters from down on the field. The drive set the Falcons up for success in the second half.
2. Turnover Battle
The San Francisco 49ers found out last week how important the turnover battle is against the Saints. The Niners let the game get away from them by turning the ball over too many times. The Falcons on Sunday got two quick interceptions — one from DeCoud, the other from Brent Grimes — one of which led to a score. The Falcons turned the ball over late in the third quarter on special teams as a punt went off of DeCoud's foot and was recovered by the Saints. The play gave the ball back to the Saints, who promptly took it down field for the go-ahead touchdown.
3. Ol' Reliable
After the Vikings' Visanthe Shiancoe and the Niners' Vernon Davis had great success against the Saints' defense, it was a safe bet that the Falcons would turn to future Hall-of-Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez early and often on Sunday. Indeed they did, and the results were what kept Atlanta in the game for so long. By the end of the third quarter, Gonzalez was 1 yard shy of 100 yards and he scored the Falcons' first TD. Gonzalez ended with 8 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown catch. It was also the fifth straight game Gonzalez has caught 5 or more passes against the Saints.
4. Special Teams
Special teams proved to be crucial for the Falcons on Sunday. The Saints started the game with a punt return that put the dangerous offense on the Falcons' 6-yard line. The Saints would soon score and put the Falcons down early. A good kickoff return for the Saints and that punt return fumble that went off DeCoud's foot would follow, further proving how important this often-overlooked phase of the game is when games are tight.
5. Rolling the Dice
Head Coach Mike Smith chose to go for it on fourth down a total of three times, Sunday, converting two. Those two fourth-down conversions came in the midst of the aforementioned 19-play drive that tied the game at 14 and took a lot of the energy out of the raucous Superdome. Both conversions were 4th and 2 situations on New Orleans' side of the field. Ryan went to the air, finding White and Gonzalez, respectively, to keep one of the game's defining drives alive. The Falcons tied the game up at 14 on a Michael Turner 1-yard TD run several plays after the two gutsy coaching decisions.
5a. Hartley's Miss
A game this good deserves an extra takeaway. And how can you not mention Saints PK Garrett Hartley's 29-yard field goal that sailed wide left in the overtime period. The Falcons took over and moved methodically downfield with Matt Ryan directing a masterful 12-play, 62-yard drive capped off by Bryant's 46-yard game winner.