With defensive players falling all over themselves to take the blame for the Saints’ 37-34 overtime loss to Atlanta, cornerback Keenan Lewis and safety Kenny Vaccaro had a slightly different take Monday. They weren’t happy with their performance but felt the opponent deserved some praise, too.
“You have to give credit to them,” Vaccaro said. “I’ve watched the tape a couple of times. They have outstanding receivers. The running backs were running good. Matt Ryan was a pinpoint passer. The O-line was blocking well.”
Ryan finished 31 of 43 for 445 yards as the Falcons rolled up a franchise-record 568 yards, the second most the Saints have allowed.
“He’s one of the best in the league,” Lewis said. “A lot of people don’t want to give credit to that guy because he plays for Atlanta, but if you look at his ratings and his statistics, the numbers speak for themselves. We have to get it fixed. I’m pretty sure our coaches will draw up a great scheme and we’ll get it going next week.”
Coach Sean Payton pointed out the missed tackles and poor communication that led to the defensive breakdown in the second half. The lack of pass rush was problematic, too: he said his review of the tape revealed only one hurry to go along with the Saints’ lone sack of Ryan.
No one appeared to take the performance harder than outside linebacker Junior Galette, who finished with four tackles but no sacks. After tweeting Sunday night, “Defense Lost This Game You’ll Never See Us Play Like That Again” followed by four exclamation points, he did not back off from that stance Monday.
“That feeling I had, I’ve never had in five years,” he said. “We just didn’t get it done. It was a nightmare, just terrible. We’ll never (pass) rush like that again. That’s a fact.”
Or, linebacker Curtis Lofton opined, tackle like that again. According to Pro Football Focus, the Saints missed 23 tackles, the most of any team in the NFL Sunday.
“Going into the game, my least expectation or problem I thought we were going to have was tackling,” Lofton said. “We did a solid job tackling in practice and in the preseason games, but it just didn’t show up for us yesterday. When you miss tackles, it leads to big plays, and that’s the outcome you get.”
First for Haralson
Saints outside linebacker Parys Haralson never had played a down of offense before entering Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons as a goal-line blocking fullback.
Not in the NFL. Not in college. Not in high school.
But there he was, lining up in front of running back Khiry Robinson on first-and-goal from the 2 in the second quarter, running to his left and shielding defensive end Kroy Biermann as Robinson powered into the end zone.
“They told me to just block color,” said Haralson, a nine-year veteran who made 30 tackles with 3½ sacks last year. “The first color that showed, I blocked. We scored the touchdown, so that’s all that mattered.”
Haralson added he never practiced at fullback until last Thursday. Payton said Haralson was in there because of his size and will be used only in goal-line situations. Robinson was the beneficiary.
“It was kind of fun having a big D-lineman in front of me blocking at the goal line,” Robinson said. “He has athleticism, and that’s what you have to have to play both ways. But it’s not too hard to go block one guy that’s two times smaller than you.”
Not a penalty
When offensive tackle Zach Strief drew a penalty for illegal contact to the face on the Saints’ opening drive, Fox color commentator John Lynch called it a “forceable blow to the head” and said the refs “were not going to miss that one.”
One problem. Strief said Monday he did not touch Biermann’s facemask or helmet.
“It looks like his head goes, but I hit him hard in the shoulder,” Strief said. “It’s a tough call for the official. I understand there’s an emphasis on it.”
The penalty erased a Jimmy Graham catch at the Falcons’ 10 and forced the Saints into second-and-19 from the 27. They ended up settling for a 31-yard field goal.
“I know this, it was a drive-killer,” Strief said. “If we score a touchdown there, maybe we don’t go to overtime.”
It was one of only three penalties (for 27 yards) the Saints drew after getting a slew of them in the preseason.
Back to Cleveland
On Sunday, Saints tight end Benjamin Watson returns to Cleveland, where he spent three seasons prior to signing with the Saints 2013. But the Browns he played with look little like the Browns of today.
“There’s maybe three or four guys that I played with,” Watson said. “And I’ve only been gone for two years.”
Still, Watson cautioned the Saints should expect an rowdy experience in a place where they haven’t played since 2006 when they opened the Sean Payton era with a 19-14 victory.
“The Browns haven’t had a winning season for a while, but their fans are very loyal,” Watson said. “They support their team, they love their team.
It’s going to be loud with a lot of excitement.”