The Falcons hosted the Saints in a virtual must-win game at home in Week 12. Coming off three straight losses, it would have been nearly impossible to chase down the Saints after falling to 4-7, even with one of the easiest schedules in the league.
Fortunately, the Falcons avoided that nightmare scenario, pulling out a much-needed victory behind some timely turnovers and a rushing attack that found its life again. The win put the Falcons in first place in the NFC South, a remarkable place to be for a team that is still one game under .500 at 5-6. It was far from pretty, but nobody in Atlanta’s locker room is apologizing for an ugly win against a division rival that has had the Falcons number in recent seasons.
What Went Right
Run, run, and more run
I was going to highlight Bijan Robinson, but that wouldn’t be doing the entire rushing attack justice. Robinson was spectacular, scoring two touchdowns — one on the ground and one through the air — and eclipsing over 120 yards from scrimmage. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be putting up those kind of numbers every game.
However, it wasn’t just Robinson that was effective. Cordarrelle Patterson looked the best he has all season, battering through Saints would-be tacklers like they were small children. Tyler Allgeier was also a wrecking ball, rushing 10 times for 64 yards.
Of course, I can’t give all the all the credit to the ball carriers. The offensive line turned in their best performance of the season. They pushed around Saints defenders for the entirety of the afternoon. New Orleans knew what was coming, and they still couldn’t stop it. That’s the game the Falcons had to play if they wanted to win, and they executed it to perfection.
Jessie Bates III
The Falcons defense has some legitimate concerns. Without Grady Jarrett, they’ve been a shell of the unit they were through the first half of the season. Unfortunately, Jarrett isn’t walking through that door anytime soon after tearing his ACL, so if this team wants to win games, they need their stars to step up and make big plays when called upon.
On Sunday, that star was Jessie Bates III. He took an interception 92 yards to the house as the Saints were about to score in the first half, and in the second half, he forced a fumble on a drive that looked like it was about to end in six. Those swings were the difference in the game. The Falcons are going to need more of that if they want to host the first playoff game in Mercedes Benz Stadium’s history at the end of the season.
Good Desmond Ridder
As always, I’m going to keep it real when it comes to Desmond Ridder. To do that, he’s going to appear in both sections, because that’s just who he has been this year, and Sunday was no different. Ridder made several plays with his feet to extend drives and also made some throws that had me thinking maybe he can be the long-term answer at the quarterback position. He has made strides this season. Anybody denying that is lying or incapable of commenting on football. With that being said, those strides need to start getting a lot bigger if he wants to be the starting quarterback in 2024.
Drake London continues to prove he’s the only consistently reliable receiving option on the team. He had some fantastic catches on Sunday, ending the afternoon with five receptions for 91 yards. After a slow start to the season, London has 54 or more receiving yards in five of his last six games. With some better quarterback play, he could be one of the better receivers in the league.
The Falcons have several former Saints on their team, and I’m sure they all were eager to make their mark in this game. The one that stood out was Kaden Elliss. He played like a man possessed, recording a couple of tackles for loss and a pass defended. Like Jessie Bates III and David Onyemata, he’s turning into another really solid member of the Falcons 2023 free agency haul.
What Went Wrong
Okudah was the third overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, but there’s a reason the Lions dealt him to the Falcons for a fifth round pick. He struggled to stay healthy, and when he was on the field, he was a liability in coverage. Okudah missed the first few games with injury, but he made several plays when he returned. He was so productive that some were even talking about him as a potential in-season extension candidate.
I’m fairly certain the Falcons are glad they didn’t jump the gun. He’s been a liability in recent weeks, and Sunday might have been the worst game of his career in Atlanta. Okudah was picked on in the first half, which forced the Falcons to have A.J. Terrell come out and trail Chris Olave in the second half. Okudah’s not a bad player, and I wouldn’t mind having him back if he finishes the season strong, but as of now, the Falcons must get better at CB2 going into the 2024 season.
Bad Desmond Ridder
Like I said, Ridder had some awesome moments. Unfortunately, he had some terrible ones that seem to re-occur every start. He tossed two interceptions, one of which occurred in the red zone. Those mistakes are unacceptable and must be fixed. On the season, Ridder has 11 total touchdowns (7 passing and four rushing) compared to eight interceptions and seven fumbles. You just can’t win consistently with that kind of quarterback play. Ridder has six more games to correct it, or he’ll be holding a clipboard next season.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire