NEW ORLEANS — Maybe that speech from Julio Jones had an effect. Or maybe switching receivers coach Raheem Morris over to the secondary made an impact.
Whatever the case, the Atlanta Falcons looked like a totally different team Sunday in upsetting the rival New Orleans Saints, 26-9. For one afternoon, they actually appeared capable of competing with any team in the league.
The Falcons didn’t look like the same team that started the season 1-7 and had dropped six games in a row. This was a team determined to silence the critics and show it had enough talent on the roster to take down the mighty Saints, even on the road.
How did the reeling Falcons suddenly turn things around? It all started up front. A team that ranked dead last in the league with seven sacks finally found a way to generate consistent pressure on one of the league’s best in Drew Brees. The Falcons had six sacks, led by defensive tackle Grady Jarrett with 2.5. Vic Beasley Jr., De’Vondre Campbell, and Adrian Clayborn all got in on the sack party.
The early sacks came in crucial third-down situations and kept the Saints from scoring touchdowns.
It’s the type of pressure that Falcons coach Dan Quinn, a defensive line guru, has been seeking all season.
If the Falcons can do the same next week at Carolina and the week after at home against Tampa Bay, then maybe they can string a couple of wins together. And maybe Quinn, who has been on the hot seat, will give owner Arthur Blank something to think about.
Describe the game in two words: Extremely surprising. The Falcons are more than capable on offense with Matt Ryan back from a sprained ankle and Jones and Calvin Ridley healthy. What was surprising was how strong the Falcons played on defense and how they never lost focus on that side of the ball. Give credit to leaders such as Jarrett and Ricardo Allen for never getting rattled and always lifting their teammates. The Saints helped the Falcons’ cause with penalties.
Promising trend: There can’t be enough talk about the Falcons recording six sacks, which was one fewer than they had all season entering this week. If the Falcons consistently pressure quarterbacks the rest of the season, they could be in every game.
QB breakdown: Ryan completed 20 of 35 passes for 182 yards with two touchdowns, one interception, and a passer rating of 78.5. Ryan showed his ankle wasn’t an issue when he scrambled for a couple of first downs. Ryan completed passes to seven receivers, including touchdown passes to tight end Austin Hooper and running back Brian Hill.
In the running: Running back Devonta Freeman left the game with an ankle injury. The Falcons had just put his backup, Ito Smith, on injured reserve. If Freeman can’t play next week, the Falcons will have to ride Hill and possibly rookie Qadree Ollison, who was active for the first time all season Sunday. Return specialist Kenjon Barner also is an option at running back.