You hardly ever point the finger at Drew Brees but you have to on this night.
The star Saints quarterback threw five bad interceptions and inexplicably made a horrible decision just prior to halftime, throwing the ball in the field of play to Darren Sproles with just 12 seconds remaining in the half with no timeouts. Why did they huddle before the play? There was no way they could get another play off.
Ludacris performed at halftime. The clock management by Brees was ludicrous. He actually had a sixth interception wiped out by penalty.
The NFL record run is over at 54 games with a touchdown pass for Brees. Watch Tom Brady come after it now. Records are made to be broken. I do not know if Brees will ever break this record of five interceptions.
The Saints and Brees beat themselves. From bad interceptions to horrible clock management to a stupid offensive interference penalty to Lance Moore dropping a touchdown pass to Mark Ingram tackling himself on what would have been a touchdown, this was one of the most frustrating losses of the Sean Payton (minus Payton) era.
Speaking of Payton, the play-calling in the third quarter was curious. The Saints were whipping Atlanta up front with Pierre Thomas running the ball at will. Then, they decide to empty the backfield and start throwing. Why? They were wearing the Falcons defense down.
Give the Atlanta defense a lot of credit. On the field most of the evening, they bent but did not break. They continuously came up with the big play and the big stop and the Saints could not.
Here are my first takes:
**Malcolm Jenkins started terribly, missing an interception on the first play from scrimmage on a ball he clearly could have picked off. Tony Gonzalez caught it On the second play of the game, Jenkins made a very poor attempt at a tackle on the next play, basically throwing a shoulder at Michael Turner which Turner easily bounced off and rambled 36 yards to the Saints 36-yard line.
**Atlanta scored easily, needing just six plays to go 80 yards to score in 3:51. The Falcons rushed for 72 of those yards, gashing the Saints big-time. It was very easy.
**Zach Strief started for the Saints, giving the offense a real lift.
**Drew Brees got greedy, trying to go deep to Marques Colston. Thomas Decoud stepped in and intercepted it in the end zone, killing the opening drive for New Orleans. Brees had all day. He either did not find anyone else open or made a bad choice. Nice job of closing by Decoud, who baited the throw. Brees was late with the throw. Colston broke open quickly. This was the third interception thrown by Brees on the first possession of the game by the Saints this year.
**Patrick Robinson appeared to get away with grabbing Roddy White's arm on a third-and-eight from the Atlanta 22-yard line on the second possession of the game for the Falcons. The pass from Matt Ryan fell incomplete and Atlanta had to punt.
**Chris Ivory tortured Atlanta in the first meeting at New Orleans. On his first carry of this game, he lost four yards. He was a non-factor. Pierre Thomas stepped up and was excellent. He rushed 14 times for 84 yards.
**Brees was off the mark in the first quarter, a harbinger of things to come. The Saints twice opted to throw on third-and-two and failed miserably both times in the first quarter. Brees was just 3-of-8 for 55 yards and the costly interception in the first quarter.
**Ryan made a perfect throw on his 17-yard touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez. Curtis Lofton had him man-to-man. He had no chance. It was the seventh touchdown catch of the year for Gonzalez. You are asking a lot of Lofton to cover Gonzalez in that situation. Ryan was 4-for-5 for 49 yards on the drive.
**Down 14-0, the Saints tried to change the tempo, going no-huddle. It was to no avail. New Orleans made one first down and then went three-and-out.
**Brees made another poor throw, putting the ball behind Chris Ivory, who tipped it in the air with Sean Weatherspoon intercepting it. Of course, it was a check-down as no receivers got open, despite having time, down field.
**After taking one delay of game, Brees nearly took another in the first half and had to burn a timeout. It was as if they had not seen the Falcons defense before.
**On the first Saints' first scoring drive, Brees made three great plays, hitting Lance Moore for 32 yards on a pinpoint throw into three defenders to convert a third-and-nine. He then avoided pressure twice, stepped up and hit Marques Colston for 12 and 11 yards to sustain the drive. That was more like the Brees we have come to know and appreciate.
**Cameron Jordan continues to play well. He got his seventh sack late in the second quarter. Joe Vitt went Sean Payton and called his second timeout with 2:35 with the Falcons possessing the football with a third-and-16. The Saints gave up a 15-yard completion, barely getting the stop to force a punt with 2:21 to play as they called their final timeout.
**Jimmy Graham got a critical pass interference penalty by blocking Weatherspoon, negating a touchdown pass to Darren Sproles. Sadly, the block was unnecessary. Brees then committed a tremendous blunder, throwing the ball in the field of play to Sproles, who was tackled at the three-yard line and the clock ran out, killing the Saints. Terrible clock management by Brees again, terrible decision to throw it in the field of play, big penalty on Graham. The Saints were taking control of things. Awful sequence, just awful, after a terrific drive. Totally inexcusable. You HAD to throw the ball in the end zone.
**Michael Turner averaged 10.1 yards per carry in the first half with seven carries for 71 yards. Atlanta had 101 yards on the ground in the first half.
**The Saints had the ball for 17:15 in the first half.
**Lance Moore dropped a touchdown pass. Simply hard to believe.
**Marques Colston went over 7,000 yards receiving. Anothe milestone for an excellent player.
**Why is Mark Ingram in the game at the goal line? Why throw him the ball? He tackles himself on what should have been a touchdown. If that is Thomas or Sproles, they score. Simple as that. It cost the Saints a touchdown. Why Ingram? Why? Thomas ran wonderfully to set the Saints up for the score. Of course, it is a moot point if Moore catches the football.
**Darren Sproles then drops a perfectly thrown deep ball from Brees. Amazing!
**The Saints get to the Atlanta 34-yard line with a second-and-two and they throw it twice. Why? They were running it down the Falcons throats. Fortunately, Garrett Hartley hit the second longest field goal of his career, a 52-yard field goal, to cut the deficit to 17-13.
**Brees then killed the Saints again, throwing another terrible interception to William Moore. Brees tried to throw back against the grain and threw it behind Devery Henderson, anyway.
**With the Saints driving again, Strief got destroyed by John Abraham, resulting in a big sack, killing the drive in the fourth quarter.
**How good is Gonzalez? He hit the 70 catch mark for the 10th straight year. Remarkable accomplishment.
**The Saints took a timeout prior to Matt Bryant's 55-yard field goal that essentially put the game away with 4:30 to play. Why call timeout there? You do not need to freeze the kicker on a 55-yard field goal attempt. He either makes it and beats you or you get great field position only down seven points. As a result, you had just two timeouts left and needed two scores. Bryant has now made seven straight field goals from 50 plus yards. You were not going to freeze him.
**Strief went down with 3:42 to play. Likely the groin injury again. He comes back in and gets beat badly, resulting forcing the fourth Brees interception, this one by Jonathan Babineaux.
**Cam Jordan then stripped Michael Turner on a great play with Rafael Bush recovering and returning it for a touchdown. Then again, Bush was fallen on (barely) by an Atlanta lineman, wiping out the score. Replay has not been kind to the Saints this year.
**The defense played its best game, allowing just 283 yards to the Falcons, just 143 after the first quarter. After the first drive of the game, the New Orleans defense was very good, to no avail. The offense threw this one away, literally.
The Saints dominated time of possession and total yards. Statistics are for losers. The only statistic that mattered was turnovers. Atlanta had one New Orleans had four, along with one huge mental turnover prior to halftime, all by their best player.
The Falcons picked off Peyton Manning in a 27-21 home victory earlier this year. Brees wishes they had picked him off just three times.
The dominance of Atlanta came to an end on this night. What happens moving forward remains to be seen.
The Saints would appear to be toast, going nowhere, barring a collapse by all other contenders and New Orleans winning out. Brees killed the Saints with a pair of pick-six scores for the 49ers and followed it up with an awful performance in Atlanta. The five interceptions are a career high for Brees. The guy is great. He needs to be great for the Saints to beat good teams. He has not been over the last two weeks, not even close. End of story.
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