I was able to take in the Saints-Falcons matchup on Monday night, and enjoyed every aspect of the game. Ignoring how the NFC playoff seedings might play out, I believe these teams are trending toward a third meeting this season, one that will decide who goes to Super Bowl XLV.
My bet is that it will be played at the site where we saw them square off last night, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
After watching the Saints win, I was actually rather stunned when looking at the final numbers and realizing they won by just three points. The Saints ran 74 plays to 52 for the Falcons. They controlled the ball for slightly more than 36 minutes. They converted 8-17 on third down, and held the Falcons to 3-12.
Turnovers kept the Falcons in this game. Drew Brees threw two interceptions, the first of which Chauncey Davis returned for a pick six. The second interception should have led to points, but Brees made a great tackle on John Abraham. At that point in the game, if Brees doesn’t make the tackle, I think Atlanta would have taken full control.
It didn’t happen, and Brees got another chance. Here are a few thoughts on things I learned on Monday night:
1. The Falcons are the likely No. 1 seed, but I’m not sure any team really fears them. Their record in the dome is terrific, but I don’t see teams saying, “I don’t think we can go to Atlanta and win.”
2. I also don’t think Atlanta cares about what I just wrote above. I see the Falcons as a team that believes in itself and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. Atlanta will challenge teams to come to the dome and prove otherwise. The Falcons didn’t play their best game last night, and were in it the entire way.
3. The Saints aren’t getting as many takeaways as last year, but they’re playing better overall defense. Don’t forget they had 39 takeaways a year ago, which is way above normal. That’s not what you’re going to get each season. But their defensive numbers are better across the board.
When the Saints needed to make plays last night, they came through. They held the Falcons to 75 yards rushing and had four tackles of Michael Turner for negative yards. Plus, it was Jeff Charleston — that’s right, Jeff Charleston — who made the key play on the goal line with a tackle and strip, recovered by Marvin Mitchell. Notice I didn’t say Darren Sharper, Roman Harper, Jonathan Vilma, Malcolm Jenkins or Will Smith. Charleston and Mitchell.
Anyone who gets on the field for this Saints team has an opportunity to make big plays. The guys on Gregg Williams’ defense give relentless effort and just seem to find a way.
The Saints showed me a lot in this game, as did the Falcons.