Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:
Sean Payton (and his new fiancée), Drew Brees and Cam Jordan walk into a bar and see an Atlanta Falcon sitting at the far end, glumly watching the ice melt into his Rusty Nail …
Oh, you’re waiting for the punch line? There’s no punchline. At least not for the Falcons.
The only joke Sunday was on the Saints.
New Orleans was supposed to saunter into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, heap another week of misery onto the Falcons’ already slumped shoulder pads and run their record to 8-1 while Atlanta death spiraled down to 1-8.
The game didn’t turn out according, as they say, to plan. The Saints offense stumbled lifelessly through a 26-9 defeat, turning two months worth of Falcons’ frowns upside down. For one week, anyway.
Victories are precious commodities in the NFL. When they come at the expense of your archrival, even more so. It’s like savoring your victory cigar while reclining in a beach chair during your all expenses paid week in the Caymans.
“It makes it a lot better. I won’t lie,” said Falcons receiver Russell Gage. The Baton Rouge native and former LSU Tiger shared Atlanta’s team high with four catches for 23 yards. “Our boys deserved that win.”
The Falcons had lost six straight coming into this one, including a trio of close encounters with victory that brushed past their fingertips: a 27-24 loss at Indianapolis, a 34-33 loss at Arizona, and a 27-20 loss last week at home to Seattle.
Reportedly Falcons coach Dan Quinn, in a desperate effort to keep the kindling and lighter fluid away from his $4.5 million job, has been outsourcing defensive playcalling duties to assistants like linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich.
Conversely, the Saints looked like they had just handed their offensive playcalling duties to “Scream” actor Skeet Ulrich.
A Falcons defense that came in ranked 30th in the NFL allowing 31.2 points per game held New Orleans’ legendary offensive machine to three measly field goals and 310 net yards. They sacked Brees six times, knocking the tread off the Saints’ tank time and again.
“We just have to play Saints football and do what we’re capable” of, said Saints receiver Michael Thomas. One of New Orleans’ few offensive bright spots, he had 13 catches for 152 yards to stay on pace to break Marvin Harrison’s 17-year old NFL single-season record of 143 receptions.
“We have to be completely honest with us. We have to do our job.”
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The Saints felt jobbed by a hands to the face call on Thomas late in the first half, which helped turn a potential touchdown drive into a field goal and a 13-6 halftime deficit.
But really, there was no blaming game officials or Roger Goodell or anyone else. Even with the return of running back par excellence Alvin Kamara, the Saints couldn’t find the end zone for the second time this season (the other was that 27-9 loss to the Rams when Brees got hurt). The frustrating game ended in perfectly fitting fashion for New Orleans, with Thomas coming up about one cheek shy of the goal line on a pass from Brees as time expired.
The Falcons, as Peyton said, outplayed the Saints completely.
“Just getting rid of a lot of mental errors and executing pretty much,” said former LSU and Jesuit High linebacker Deion Jones, who tallied five tackles for the Falcons. “Playing with discipline. Playing fast. The guys were locked in.”
The Saints did not look locked in. They looked, like a lot of their fans in the Superdome sounded, like they celebrated LSU’s victory Saturday over Alabama a little too intensely.
The hangover never lifted. And the Saints will have to swallow a couple of antacids before they tackle the dismal game film Monday.
“There’s a lot of corrections,” Peyton said. “A lot of corrections. It’s a good group here, and they understand that tomorrow it will be tough to watch it. But shame on us if we can’t get those corrections made.”
An NFL season is a long grind. An occasional clunker is to be expected.
For the Saints though, an unexpected loss in which you were a two-touchdown favorite does not leave much margin for error in the race for NFC home-field advantage as it currently stands. Seattle and Green Bay also came into the weekend with two losses, and San Francisco was 8-0 going into Monday night’s game against the Seahawks. It wouldn’t hurt the Saints’ cause any to see Ed Orgeron’s old boss Pete Carroll and the Seahawks pull off the upset.
By the way, LSU’s 46-41 victory over its bitter rival Alabama made this a completely delightful weekend for Falcons like Jones and Gage and former LSU quarterback Danny Etling, who spent time this week on the Atlanta scout team mimicking the Saints’ Taysom Hill. No need, as it turned out, as Hill was also pretty much a nonfactor with one catch and one rush for a net 14 yards.
Like his LSU brethren, Etling left the Falcons locker room with a smile on his face thinking about the Tigers taking down the Crimson Tide after eight straight defeats. The only thing that would have made Etling happier, he said, was to take a few snaps in LSU’s turbocharged offense.
That cannot be. But Etling and the Falcons will take a win over the hated Saints. A chance to ease Atlanta’s collective pain while throwing a wrench into the works of this promising Saints season.