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Falcons’ playoff hopes pretty much dead after loss to 10-1 Saints

November 23, 2018

The Atlanta Falcons’ season is, in effect, over on Thanksgiving.

They’re 4-7 following a 31-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Thursday, and one team has made the postseason after starting with that record in nearly a decade. Since 1990, only three of the 127 teams to start 4-7 got into the playoffs. Long story short: It almost certainly will be another NFL season without a team playing the Super Bowl in its home stadium.

Some of the same ills that have plagued the Falcons this season — plus a few new ones — cost them dearly against one of the best teams in football.

The Falcons’ undermanned defense had few answers for Drew Brees and the Saints, although Atlanta did intercept Brees for only his second pick of the season. But a busted coverage on a first-quarter touchdown by Tommylee Lewis put them in a hole they never could dig out of.

Brees finished the game with four TD passes even though he was held to 171 yards passing, his second-lowest total of the season. But it was plenty in the Saints’ 10th straight victory.

Atlanta’s run game never got going, entering the third quarter with a mere 15 yards on the ground — 7 by Matt Ryan. Tevin Coleman was completely bottled up (2 yards rushing on his first seven carries).

Ryan also was sacked six times, hit a total of 13 times and lost a fumble in the red zone as the Falcons were trying to tie it up early. Julio Jones also lost a fumble near the end of the first half with Atlanta trying to cut into a 17-3 lead. Turnovers really hadn’t been a huge issue this season, but they were on Thursday.

Atlanta dropped to 1-4 on the road this season after being a quality road team the previous two seasons.

The Saints are now 10-1 and rolling toward a first-round bye. It was hardly a vintage performance in the short holiday week, but the defense rose up in a big way. Emerging LB Alex Anzalone forced Jones’ big fumble with a huge hit, and DLs Sheldon Rankins and Cameron Jordan both had big games. The unit also was lifted by the return of rookie DE Marcus Davenport from a toe injury, playing his first game since Week 8.

And in a sign of how dangerous the Saints are, the Falcons actually held Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram and Michael Thomas out of the end zone. Lewis, Austin Carr, Dan Arnold and Keith Kirkwood all scored touchdowns for New Orleans in this game — all four undrafted players, interestingly. Only Carr had gotten into the end zone this season for the team; Lewis, Arnold and Kirkwood became the 14th, 15th and 16th Saints players, respectively, to score TDs for the team this season.

That’s firepower and depth, folks. That also might enhance Brees’ MVP candidacy in a week when Patrick Mahomes was prolific but also turnover-prone in the epic Monday night shootout between the Chiefs and Rams.

But this game was more about a reminder of what a lost season it has been for Atlanta. The Falcons put themselves in a 1-4 hole to start the season before pulling back to .500 at 4-4. A run certainly looked possible at that point, even with their defensive shortcomings.

That was until the Falcons lost their past three games. The offense absolutely has crippled this team, scoring a mere 52 points in those games after scoring 95 during the three-game win streak. For all the firepower the team has, the Falcons have been overwhelmed at the line of scrimmage and were unable to finish off drives more often than not.

The Falcons stayed in the game late in the third quarter when Ryan found Calvin Ridley for a fourth-down touchdown. But Ryan was picked early in the fourth quarter on a deflected pass at the line of scrimmage, which was pretty much the final stake in Atlanta as the Saints turned that into Kirkwood’s first score in his third NFL game.

Ridley appeared to be going in for another score with about four minutes left, but Saints CB Marcus Lattimore knocked the ball out a yard short of the end zone after a 29-yard catch. It was that kind of night for Atlanta. And it’s really been that kind of season, with red-zone issues arising once again.

Head coach Dan Quinn likely does not have to worry too much about his job security, but there’s no doubt this season has been a massive disappointment after playing in five postseason games the previous two years and entering this season with hopes of making a Super Bowl run. It’s not happening.

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