New Orleans Saints stumble to 4-5 with loss to Atlanta Falcons

Posted by Teddy Kider, The Times-Picayune November 09, 2008 10:27PM

ATLANTA – Technically, Sunday’s game ended with a touchdown by the Saints. But the outcome was complete with a little more than a minute remaining against the Atlanta Falcons, and the final meaningful play of the day was the same as the Saints’ first offensive play of the game: an interception for the Falcons.

The Saints (4-5) continued the same pattern they have followed for most of the season, falling one game worse than .500 for the fourth time this year. They never led in a 34-20 loss to the Falcons (6-3) at the Georgia Dome, and a crowd of 64,826 watched as New Orleans found some more frustration.

“We can only play the whole ‘we had a good week of preparation’ card so long,” Saints linebacker Scott Fujita said. “We can only play the whole ‘we got great character on the team’ card for so long. It’s time for people to start stepping up and make some plays. It’s freaking embarrassing.”

Members of the Saints did, in fact, mention both of those “cards” after the game. Coach Sean Payton said New Orleans had one of its “better weeks” of preparation before heading to Atlanta, and quarterback Drew Brees talked about “a good team with quality players and quality character people and good leaders.”

But the Saints all seemed to agree that the all-too-familiar pattern, which has kept them at the bottom of the NFC South standings, needs to stop.

“We haven’t been over .500 since ’06, and I don’t count us starting off 1-0 this season as being over .500,” said Brees, who threw a season-high three interceptions. “I mean being over .500 with some significance.”

The Saints found themselves trailing 20-6 with 2:06 remaining in the third quarter, and from there, a game that New Orleans never really found its footing in only got worse.

The next drive for the Saints was a quick three-and-out with three incomplete passes, and the Falcons followed that up with another touchdown. Falcons running back Jerious Norwood turned a short pass into a 67-yard score, capping an 80-yard drive that took less than two minutes and gave Atlanta a 27-6 lead with a little less than a quarter remaining.

The Saints, who rushed for 105 yards on 17 carries, were forced to abandon much of their offensive game plan.

“We felt like we wanted to walk away from this game being the ones who had won the rushing battle,” Brees said. “So we came in with an emphasis on running the ball. Unfortunately, we got midway through the third quarter and all of a sudden had to play catch-up.”

Brees threw 58 times, and he completed 31 for 422 yards and two touchdowns. He also had the three interceptions, one on the first offensive play of the game and two in the fourth quarter, on consecutive drives.

The final interception came on first-and-goal from the Falcons’ 8-yard-line with 1:30 remaining. Falcons cornerback Chevis Jackson returned the ball 95 yards for a touchdown — the second-longest interception return for a touchdown in Atlanta history — and the Falcons had a 34-13 lead.

Brees was sacked once but faced pressure almost all day from the Falcons.

“I think they were able to get pressure with the four-man rush, and we weren’t able to do that,” Payton said. “That, I think, is important, obviously a key component of the game if you’re looking at it, when you’re talking about trying to throw the football and trying to convert third downs and trying to operate in the red zone. He was under a lot of duress, I thought.”

The Saints could not match that pressure in dealing with Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.

Ryan added to his impressive rookie season by completing 16 of 23 passes for 248 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Falcons running back Michael Turner added 96 yards on 27 carries, and Atlanta had a 17-6 lead by halftime.

New Orleans didn’t score its first touchdown until less than 10 minutes remained, and an eventful comeback attempt — Brees completed 19-of-34 passes for 294 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the fourth quarter — was insufficient.

“It’s painful, because we’ve been hovering around that .500 mark for way too long now, trying to make a push, coming into these divisional road games feeling pretty good about ourselves, thinking this is our shot to get over the hump,” Fujita said. “To go on the road twice now and just get hammered the way you did, in all phases of the game, it’s real disappointing.”

The Saints’ last trip — not counting their 37-32 win against the San Diego Chargers on Oct. 26 in London, which counted as a home game — was a 30-7 loss at Carolina on Oct. 19.

With a game coming up at Kansas City on Sunday, the Saints are 0-4 in road games this season. They also seemed to be getting healthier heading into this weekend but now have to deal with a fresh batch of injuries, such as the fractured right kneecap that cornerback Mike McKenzie suffered Sunday.

“I think if we had played today’s game anywhere, I think the result would have been the same,” Payton said. “I don’t think we can point to this being on the road. I don’t think we can point our fingers at injuries. I don’t think we can point to any of those things. I think we got beat today by a team that played better than we did.”

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